Family grieves for Marine, questions need for invasion

Casualty: Kendall D. Waters-Bey's death prompts criticism of U.S. motives in the attack on Iraq.

War in Iraq

March 23, 2003|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

Nakia Waters and two of her sisters stood on the concrete porch of their parents' brick rowhouse in Baltimore yesterday, laughing about their memories of knock-down pillow fights and all-out water-gun duels with their brother, Kendall D. Waters-Bey, a Marine who was one of the first U.S. casualties of the Iraq war.

But tears started streaming down Waters' cheeks when they began to talk about whether their brother died for a good cause. All three said they are angry at President Bush for sending their brother to die in what they regard as an unjust and pointless war.

"This war is all about oil and money," said Waters, 26, wiping the tears away. "But he [Bush] has already got oil and money. It's about greed. ... He ought to send his daughters over there to fight. See how long they'd last over there."

Their brother, a 29-year-old staff sergeant who supervised the maintenance of combat helicopters, was one of four U.S. Marines and eight British commandos who died Thursday when their CH-46E Sea Knight helicopter crashed and burned south of the Iraqi town of Umm Qasr.

Another of Waters-Bey's sisters, Sharita Waters-Bey, 23, said she was unmoved when Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld expressed his condolences during a televised press conference.

"That was just a show. They don't care. If they really cared, they [Bush or Rumsfeld] would call or send something. They wouldn't go on national television to express that to us," she said. "They don't know what we're going through as a family."

While several politicians praised Waters-Bey's sacrifice in fighting for freedom, those words rang false among neighbors up and down the block of Northeast Baltimore rowhouses where Waters-Bey grew up.

Many in this stable, hardworking community north of Morgan State University agree with Waters-Bey's sisters, who believe their brother died for oil prices.

"If we lose this war, oil will be $100 a barrel, and if we win, it will be like $25 a barrel," said Jimmy Relish, a 60-year-old Vietnam War veteran who lives down the block from the family's home on Woodbourne Avenue. Waters-Bey "was a real nice guy, and it's really a shame he died, because I don't think this war was necessary."

George G. Streeter, a 70-year-old retired Postal Service supervisor and Korean War veteran who lives nearby, said he doubts the government's assertions that the United States had to go to war to protect itself from Saddam Hussein's weapons or help the Iraqi people.

"They say he is a threat, but it seems the biggest threat is North Korea," said Streeter. "Now North Koreans got all these nuclear weapons and are talking junk, and we aren't doing anything about that. And they sure aren't helping all those people starving in Africa. If the oil wasn't in Iraq, we wouldn't be there."

These sentiments were not shared by Maryland 2nd District Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger and other officials, who stopped by the family's home yesterday to offer soothing words.

"There is no better honor than to give your life for others," Ruppersberger said outside the family's home, where TV news crews gathered. "No matter where you are on this war, if it wasn't for the sacrifice of veterans, we wouldn't have the freedoms we have today."

Funeral arrangements have not been made for Waters-Bey, an 11-year Marine Corps veteran who attended Northern High School in the city.

Family and friends described him as a jovial, outgoing athlete who ran track and swam at Northern. He enlisted in the Marines at the age of 18 when his first wife, Tawanda Poteat, became pregnant with their son, Kenneth Waters-Bey.

"He wanted to have a good job for his son," said his sister Nakia Waters. "He didn't want to fall in with the wrong crowd."

Capt. Ray Coleman, 34, a Baltimore native and Marine who served with Waters-Bey at Whiting Field Naval Air Station in Milton, Fla., during the late 1990s, said that Waters-Bey viewed the military as a career that would lift him out of the struggles of urban life.

"Coming from Baltimore can be hard, and the Marine Corps was his way out. I don't know if he had the money to go to college, but he wanted to succeed in the Marine Corps, and he worked very hard," Coleman said in an interview from his home in Florida.

Waters-Bey, a crew chief who was responsible for supervising the maintenance of helicopters, also operated 50-caliber machine guns during combat missions. He entered the service as a mechanic but was so diligent and intelligent he was quickly promoted to crew chief, Coleman said.

His service in the Marines took him to bases in Florida and then California. But he always kept in contact with his son, calling him often and getting together with him for fishing trips and swimming.

"He was a lot of fun to be with - just like a big kid," said his son, Kenneth, now 10.

Although Waters-Bey's job was preparing for war, he loved watching Tom and Jerry cartoons and playing video games with his son, and chasing him around the yard.

Kenneth said he last talked to his father by phone in December, when he was shipping out from his base in California for the Persian Gulf.

"I said, `Goodbye, Dad, I love you,'" the boy said. "He was fighting for his country and doing what he had to do. And he'll always be my hero."

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