Kendall D. Waters-Bey

April 04, 2003

U.S. MARINE Staff Sgt. Kendall D. Waters-Bey grew up in a typical Northeast Baltimore rowhouse. He was a fun-loving young man, an athlete and a leader, who got serious about life after he graduated from Harbor City High and his first wife became pregnant with his now 10-year-old son. He joined the Marines to make something of himself, and by all accounts he loved his career and was succeeding admirably.

Today, family and friends of the 29-year-old helicopter crew chief will gather at the Garrison Forest Veterans Cemetery in Owings Mills to bury him. Sergeant Waters-Bey died March 20 in Kuwait, among the first 12 coalition deaths, four American and eight British, in this gulf war. The men were flying a mission in a CH-46E Sea Knight helicopter that crashed in the desert just south of Iraq.

As such, this Marine from Baltimore joins hundreds of thousands of American men and women who have died in the service of their nation. Over the years, this country has erected countless memorials to their sacrifices, and on Memorial Day each year we collectively pause to honor them for what Lincoln long ago termed their "last full measure of devotion."

But honors hardly temper the pain of a family awakened at 3 a.m. with the shock that their only son had died at the outset of a distant conflict riven with questions. This is the age-old senselessness of war. In this conflict, U.S. military technology may hold the promise of relatively fewer losses than in the past, but at least 57 Americans have died in combat as of yesterday afternoon. And with U.S. troops poised to enter the dangers of Baghdad, more homes across America are bound to be stricken.

The Marine's father, Michael Waters-Bey, initially expressed his understandable hurt with sharp words for President Bush, his dead son's commander in chief. Some self-misdescribed patriots on the local talk-radio circuit were cowardly enough to criticize him for that. Now, this is his message: "If you have a child, an uncle, a cousin, a sister or brother, grab them and tell them you love them. ... You never know."

And he wants his son, who gained notice in death, to be remembered for the way he lived his life. To that end, he offers an e-mail message that he received from a sailor who also is from Baltimore and who had worked with Sergeant Waters-Bey in the service - a fitting tribute on this day:

"Kendall was a light in a very dark world, and one that will forever shine in the eyes of the men he taught and inspired to strive for greatness. He was a man of Baltimore ... one who never let you down. I trusted him with more than just my life, and he never faltered."

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