Fallen Marine's funeral brings home loss that's felt by us all

April 06, 2003|By GREGORY KANE

MICHAEL Waters-Bey stood only yards from the flag-draped coffin that held the remains of his only son. His son's only son stood beside him.

They greeted each of the mourners who walked by the coffin, the closed one with a picture propped above it to remind us of what Marine Staff Sgt. Kendall Damon Waters-Bey, in dress uniform, looked like when he was alive.

Rep. Elijah Cummings of the 7th Congressional District was among the elected officials who attended Waters-Bey's funeral Friday morning at St. Matthew's Roman Catholic Church on Loch Raven Boulevard. He shook hands with Michael Waters-Bey and his grandson, Kenneth Damon Waters-Bey, and spoke a few words of condolence. So did Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, U.S. Sens. Paul S. Sarbanes and Barbara A. Mikulski, Mayor Martin O'Malley, Reps. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger and Benjamin L. Cardin, Del. Curtis S. Anderson and City Council members Melvin L. Stukes and John L. Cain.

NAACP President Kweisi Mfume shook the elder Waters-Bey's hand and said a few words. Mfume seemed to talk to the boy a little longer than most people did. Maybe he remembered his own loss of a parent; Mfume's mother died in his arms when he was still a teen-ager.

As the father of four sons (one of whom was a Marine), Mfume may have felt a special empathy for the loss of Michael Waters-Bey's only son.

"For me it's all personal," Mfume said. "I don't know what I'd do if I had only one son and I got a call that he was gone."

Speaking of the Marine sergeant who was killed with eight British commandos and three other Marines on March 21 when his helicopter crashed in Iraq near the Kuwait border, Mfume said, "People are better because of the simple eloquence of his example."

Well, not all of us are better. Some are quite petty, specifically those who criticized the Waters-Bey family on some talk-radio shows for questioning the necessity of "Mr. Bush's war."

It was Michelle Waters-Bey, one of the staff sergeant's four younger sisters, who dared speak out in a March 22 Sun story by reporters Eric Siegel and Reginald Fields.

"It's all for nothing," she said. "That war could have been prevented. Now, we're out of a brother. [President] Bush is not out of a brother. We are."

Michael Waters-Bey was quoted as saying "the U.S. government owes me an explanation." Those were the comments considered out of line. But when a man has lost his only son, and a woman her only brother, they're entitled to say just about anything they please.

There were no politics or anti-war statements at Kendall Waters-Bey's funeral. The family asked Cummings - who has also questioned the need for war - to speak. He kept the focus squarely on Kendall Waters-Bey.

"We have come here not because he died, but because he lived," Cummings said. "He was one of our best, a helicopter crew chief who could take a helicopter apart and put it back together again."

Cummings read a few quotes from a Navy serviceman Kendall Waters-Bey mentored.

"There were times when I didn't know what to do and then I thought of what [Kendall Waters-Bey] would do," the seaman wrote. "He was flawless, and there is not another man I would rather have at my back."

O'Malley, speaking outside the church after Marine pallbearers had placed Kendall Waters-Bey's coffin in a hearse that would travel to the staff sergeant's final resting place at Garrison Forest Veterans Cemetery, expressed similar admiration for the fallen leatherneck.

"He was a loving husband and father," O'Malley said. "This really drives it all home. At times like this, you realize they're all our children."

For at least one day, Kendall and Kenneth Waters-Bey belonged to us all. Members of the Navy, Marines, Army and Air Force were scattered throughout the large church, as well as police officers, firefighters and state troopers.

Mourners were Muslim, Christian and Jew, black, white and Asian. This is a death we all felt. Not as badly as the Waters-Bey family, but we felt it nonetheless.

It may have been O'Malley who expressed a sentiment that may be the only common ground pro- and anti-war Americans have. "I hope this war doesn't last long," he said.

Amen to that, Mr. Mayor. Amen to that.

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