Solemn tribute to Md. Marine

Funeral: Friends, family and respectful strangers gather to honor one of the first to die in the Iraq conflict.

War In Iraq

April 05, 2003|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

U.S. Marine Staff Sgt. Kendall D. Waters-Bey was laid to rest yesterday with solemn tributes that included the recitation of a Muslim prayer in a Catholic church and a 21-gun military salute.

The 29-year-old Marine, who became one of the first casualties of the Iraqi war when his helicopter crashed near the Iraq-Kuwait border, was buried with full military honors at the Maryland National Veterans Cemetery in Owings Mills after an ecumenical funeral service at St. Matthew's Roman Catholic Church, a few blocks from the Northeast Baltimore home where he grew up.

"On June 16, 1973, in God's wise providence, he saw fit to give us Kendall Waters-Bey. And on this day, we give Kendall Waters-Bey back to God," the Rev. William C. Bailey, pastor of the Christian Love Baptist Church in West Baltimore, said in a benediction at the cemetery.

Taps and flags

As hundreds watched in a chill wind beneath a gray sky, seven members of the Marine funeral detail fired three volleys each from their rifles. A bugler played Taps and the American flag that had covered Sergeant Waters-Bey's casket was ceremoniously folded and presented to his wife, Belinda Waters-Bey.

Folded American flags were also presented by members of the funeral detail to Sergeant Waters-Bey's 10-year-old-son, Kenneth, and to his mother, Angela Waters-Bey.

Those three and his father, Michael Waters-Bey, and his four sisters each in turn placed a single rose upon his casket.

Earlier, in front of some 800 mourners at St. Matthew's, Sergeant Waters-Bey was eulogized as the "very, very best" father in a poem written by his son and read by his uncle, and as a Marine who was "always faithful" to his mission by U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings.

`We thank you'

Sergeant Waters-Bey, based at Camp Pendleton, Calif., was crew chief on a CH-46E Sea Knight helicopter when it crashed last month on the second day of combat. Three other U.S. Marines and eight British commandos were killed in the crash.

"This is a young man who was one of our very best. He could take a helicopter apart and put it back together again," said Mr. Cummings. "He gave his life for all of us."

Turning to the family, Mr. Cummings added: "We have come to thank you - to thank you - for your sacrifice and his."

The poem written by Sergeant Waters-Bey's son and read aloud by his maternal uncle, Samuel Brown, began with the lines: "I will miss your gentle tenderness/ The talks, the smiles, the joys/ But I know my Daddy is in heaven/ Rejoicing with his Lord."

The Rev. Joseph B. Muth Jr., pastor of St. Matthew's, addressed the broad nature of the service when he greeted mourners by saying that "we come together as Catholics, Jews and Muslims" to celebrate Sergeant Waters-Bey's life and later when he noted, "It's all right to say `Amen!' in this church."

During the recitation of the Muslim prayer by Sheik Eugene Martin-el, associate minister with the Moorish Science Temple of America, Sergeant Waters-Bey's father and several other Muslims stood and faced east.

In his sermon, Mr. Bailey acknowledged, "One does not go to war without some risk." But he added, "It does not negate the fact that today we are hurting."

The service included the singing of a gospel song and a saxophone solo by one of Sergeant Waters-Bey's cousins, Kim Waters.

A video presentation, set to music, showed a series of pictures of Sergeant Waters-Bey representing the stages of his abbreviated life.

It featured images of him as a baby sitting in a chair, as a young boy with his four sisters, and as a teen-ager behind the wheel of a car. Later images showed him with his helicopter unit, eating ribs in his back yard and fishing with his son.

The video ended with a picture of a sunset and with a portrait of Sergeant Waters-Bey in uniform.

Although some members of Sergeant Waters-Bey's family had publicly questioned the necessity of the war in Iraq immediately after his death, there was no rancor in yesterday's events, only regret in his death and pride in his service.

Indeed, a portrait of Segreant Waters-Bey in uniform was placed on an easel behind his flag-draped coffin during the church service, and floral arrangements in the shape and pattern of the Stars and Stripes flanked it.

As pallbearers from the 4th Combat Engineering Battalion in Baltimore carried his casket from the church, an organist played the "Battle Hymn of the Republic."

Besides Mr. Cummings, those attending the service included U.S. Sens. Paul S. Sarbanes and Barbara A. Mikulski and U.S. Reps. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger and Benjamin L. Cardin.

Governor and mayor

Also in attendance were Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele and Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley.

Men wearing the uniforms of the Air Force, Army and Navy as well as the Marine Corps were there.

A procession of about 175 cars followed a police escort from the church to the cemetery. Many of those who went to the cemetery were relatives and friends of Sergeant Waters-Bey and his family, but some just wanted to pay tribute to the fallen Marine.

Among the latter were William Heiland, a Vietnam veteran, and his wife, Susan Heiland, who live in Owings Mills. "If he worked to defend our freedom, the least we could do was show our respect," she said.

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