NEW LONDON, Conn. (AP) — Two Coast Guard Academy cadets from the Republic of Georgia who died in a car crash last month had lived the dream of many young people in their country by attending school in the United States, a fellow cadet said Wednesday at a memorial ceremony at the Connecticut school.
U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and the Coast Guard Commandant, Adm. Paul Zukunft, were among hundreds of people who gathered at the academy in New London to pay tribute to cadets Soso Makaridze and Besarion "Beso" Gorjoladze, whose families also attended.
"They both enjoyed making people happy and making people laugh," said cadet George Talakhadze, a fellow Georgian. "For many young Georgians, to go to school in a place like the United States Coast Guard Academy is a dream. Soso and Beso had this dream come true."
Makaridze and Gorjoladze died March 7 in a spring break car wreck in Hopewell Township, New Jersey, north of Trenton. Authorities say they were passengers in a car driven by fellow cadet Joel MacArthur that collided head-on with another vehicle on Route 31. MacArthur and two people in the other car survived.
Zukunft said cadets are devastated by the loss of their two classmates.
"This quilt, this bond that you create as members of the corps, you're missing a strand today," Zukunft said. "But you've closed circles and you're an even tighter corps of cadets today than you were on March 7 and I could not be more proud. Let this be a character-building moment for you today because that's the exact way that Soso and Beso would want that to be."
Members of the Coast Guard Honor Guard were shown on a video screen firing rifles during the ceremony, which included music by the Coast Guard band and glee club. Honor Guard members folded American flags that were given to the two cadets' families.
Johnson did not speak at the memorial. U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal and U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, both Connecticut Democrats, also attended.
Giorgi Khelashvili, deputy chief of mission at the Georgian embassy in Washington, D.C., said Makaridze and Gorjoladze were born in independent Georgia and wanted their country to remain free.
"They have been mourned not only by their families but by the entire country, every single family in Georgia," Khelashvili said.