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US Naval Academy grad killed in FL represents "the best of us"

Posted at 3:49 PM, Dec 10, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-10 18:46:34-05

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — "This place has a funny way of making you into who you should be," said then-U.S. Naval Academy senior Josh Watson in a interview in January.

As the captain of the school's varsity rifle team, he spoke on Navy Sports Magazine about his plans after college.

"I was selected for Navy pilot so hopefully heading down to Pensacola at some point. Right now I’m slated for November. Get through flight school and maybe go fly jets. That'd be pretty cool," said Watson.

It was those plans that were cut short by a gunman's bullet. Friday at Naval Air Stations Pensacola, he was shot by a member of the Saudi Air Force who was in the United States for training.

"Heartache and loss at a young man taken way too soon before his career really had a chance to take off," said Commander Travis Chapman.

Chapman is the associate chair of the Mechanical Engineering department, Josh's major. His former instructors, rifle teammates and friends, stopping by to reflect on their time spent with Josh at a tribute set up in Rickover Hall.

"He worked hard, stayed focus, embraced a bit of humor. It wasn’t always easy but he was not afraid of a challenge," wrote his professor Andrew Smith. "Josh has a real clarity of purpose. He knew why he had chosen the Naval Academy and his sense of commitment inspired those around him. There were times when he was struggling to balance his coursework with the demands of being on the varsity rifle team, but from the beginning he was fully committed to both his academic goals and becoming the captain of the rifle team."

"He was the student that you wanted to have. Every instructor remembered him from their classes as he was the guy that was diligent," said Chapman.

The 23-year-old from Alabama was actually at the academy up until he left for Florida last month, supporting the rifle team.

"Their job now is to turn back around and support the brigade of Midshipmen," said Chapman.

And he continued to serve until his last breath. He and the two other Navy sailors killed have been hailed as heroes for confronting the gunman on base and saving lives.

"When that day happened to show up for him, he was ready to respond in the way that he did and I think everyone recognizes that’s the kind of person he was," said Chapman.