Md. Guard loses 3 in Iraq accident

Truck in convoy hit their Humvee


Three Maryland Army National Guardsmen were killed in Iraq when their Humvee was hit accidentally by a tractor-trailer in a convoy last week - the first state Guardsmen killed in the line of duty overseas since World War II, state military officials said yesterday.

The soldiers, of the 243rd Engineer Company based at the Melvin H. Cade Armory in West Baltimore, were identified as Spc. Samuel M. Boswell, 20, of Elkridge; Spc. Bernard L. Ceo, 22, of Baltimore; and Sgt. Brian R. Conner, 36, of Gwynn Oak.

Their convoy was passing through the Al Taji area, northwest of Baghdad, on Friday when a tractor-trailer struck the rear of their Humvee, said Maj. Gen. Bruce F. Tuxill, adjutant general for the Maryland National Guard.

"The Humvee caught fire and the ammunition aboard detonated," said Maj. Charles S. Kohler, adding that it was unclear whether the men died at the scene.

They were the first Maryland National Guardsmen to die while deployed overseas since World War II, Tuxill said.

"It is difficult to express the sadness that each of us have in Maryland today," Tuxill said, in announcing the deaths. "Each of these fine men, these heroes, represented our state and the nation in the best traditions of the National Guard."

The death of Conner, a Baltimore fire lieutenant, was announced Saturday by Fire Department officials and officially confirmed yesterday, along with those of Boswell and Ceo.

The men had been in Iraq since mid-August, Kohler said.

Boswell, who joined the Guard in June 2003, worked with his father, Kohler said. Ceo, who enlisted in December 2001, was a technician and served in the honor guard with the 5th Regiment Infantry. Conner had been in the Guard since June 1989.

Family members gathered at Ceo's home on Greenmount Avenue in Waverly described him as a dedicated soldier who entered the military to help pay for college. He dreamed of being a teacher, his family said.

His mother, Rosemarie, 54, said she spoke with him Wednesday and that they talked about the family gathering they were planning for his scheduled visit home next month. She was notified of her son's death Friday but said she had received little information about how or where he was killed.

"That's the only thing that comforts me, he was doing what he wanted to do," she said. "Right now, I'm just waiting for him to come home so I can put him to rest."

Ceo came from a military family. Most of his uncles and his father, Fred Ceo, 55, served in Vietnam. Ceo's father remembered him as someone who put others first - part of the reason he signed up for the Guard.

"That's what he really wanted to do - is go to college. And he was the type of guy that didn't want to put that [financial] strain on myself and his mother."

The families of Boswell and Conner declined to speak with the news media yesterday.

Conner was recalled yesterday at his firehouse on West North Avenue in Walbrook as a "gentle giant," a fellow firefighter said. Conner, a single father, raised three daughters on his own, fire officials said.

Conner prepared for his Iraq deployment two months ago, said Ray Dingle, an acting lieutenant, by bringing his personal body armor along.

In civilian life, the Gwynn Oak resident was known as a dedicated city fire official who enjoyed a good laugh or joke.

Conner served in the city Fire Department for 12 years, said department spokesman Kevin Cartwright. When not on the job in his fire or soldier uniform, Conner's pastimes included customizing his pickup truck and riding his motorcycle.

During his National Guard tour in Iraq, Conner sent e-mail to friends at the West Baltimore firehouse who now mourn his loss.

"Everybody's hoping and ready to put him to rest, as dignified as we can," Dingle said. "We're talking about a memorial at the firehouse."

The number of soldiers with ties to Maryland who have been killed since Operation Iraqi Freedom began in 2003 now stands at 32. jamie.

Sun reporter John Fritze and researcher Paul McCardell contributed to this article.

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