Wild Boars ordained to honor fallen Navy SEAL

Dressed in white robes and bedecked with wreaths of fragrant jasmine, eleven young members of the Wild Boars soccer team and their coach were ordained at a Buddhist temple in Chiang Rai last Wednesday to honor the former Thai Navy SEAL who perished during the mission to rescue them from a flooded cave.

Hundreds of people, including family, community members and some of the rescuers, turned out to walk with the boys or watch them as they marched in a traditional procession through the monsoon mists along a rain-swept mountain road to the gilded temple. People held aloft white umbrellas and carried silver trays adorned with fruits and flowers as offerings to the temple.

Meanwhile, at a ceremony in Canberra, the government of Australia awarded medals for bravery to nine of their citizens who volunteered and played important roles in the rescue mission. Anesthetist Richard Harris and diver Craig Challen were awarded the Star of Courage, the second highest civilian bravery decoration. The others received the Bravery Medal.

In northernmost Thailand, at the mountaintop Phra That Doi Tung temple worshippers laid wreaths, flowers and lit incense before an altar with a large portrait of Lt. Cmdr. Saman Kunan, the SEAL who gave his life trying to save the boys. Saman’s widow Waliphon Kunan traveled to Chiang Rai from the northeastern province of Roi Et to be present at the ceremony.

In Thai Buddhist culture, all males are expected to spend some time as novice monks at a temple as they enter adulthood or later in life as a show of devotion and to learn more deeply about their faith. Men may also be ordained at other times for a variety of reasons including to honor someone or to show penance.

The eleven boys were ordained as novices, while their 25-year-old coach took the vows of a monk because he had already passed novice stage, having spent eight years as a monk. All will spend nine days learning, studying dhamma (Buddhist precepts) and practicing meditation, while also making offerings to the spirit of Lt. Cmdr. Kunan.

One boy, 14-year-old Adul Sam-on, was not ordained because he is a Christian, and he has been praying at a local church to honor the soul of Lt. Cmdr. Kunan.

“The ordination is also their way of thanking all the rescuers from Thailand and other countries,” said Praphan Khamchoi, chief of the Chiang Rai Office of Buddhism.