Family and friends honor sailor

Petty Officer 2nd Class Edward Austin Koth died serving in Iraq

August 06, 2006|By JOHN FRITZE | JOHN FRITZE,SUN REPORTER

They did not dwell on his dangerous mission, his love for the Navy or his death in Iraq. Instead the mourners, who walked silently past a row of American flags that were lined up outside the cathedral, remembered a young man full of compassion and curiosity.

Hundreds streamed past the flags and into the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Baltimore yesterday to celebrate the life of Petty Officer 2nd Class Edward Austin Koth, a 30-year-old Towson native who was killed in Iraq last month when a bomb he was defusing exploded.

"We're not here to canonize him - we don't need to do that," the Rev. Francis Hilton told the family, friends and sailors in dress whites who filled the cavernous stone sanctuary for the service. "This man ran a good race of faith."

A Loyola College graduate and a respected diver on the school's swim team, Petty Officer Koth joined the Navy in 1999 and was assigned to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit Eight. He was deployed to Iraq in February with a joint task force responsible for neutralizing bombs planted on roadsides around Baghdad - a particularly dangerous mission.

Petty Officer Koth - Austin, to those who knew him - was about three weeks from completing his second tour of duty in Iraq when he was killed by one of those bombs July 26.

In his homily, Father Hilton told a story about how Petty Officer Koth broke an arm when he was 8 years old and how doctors required him to use an IV stand to elevate his arm. An avid athlete even then, he was not content to sit indoors and stare at his cast.

One day, his mother, Kathleen, peered out the window and found him barreling down a hill on a skateboard, the IV pole rolling alongside.

"Austin's curiosity got the best of him," Father Hilton said. "Imagine the mind of an 8-year-old thinking, `Will this work?'"

That curiosity - his desire to explore, Father Hilton said - gave him a contagious spirit that inspired those close to him.

Petty Officer Koth graduated from Calvert Hall College High School in 1994, where his mother worked in the religion department until retiring this year. He earned a bachelor's degree in business administration from Loyola in 1999.

A triathlete, he had played safety on the football team in high school and was described by his swimming coach at Loyola as fearless.

After graduation, he joined an elite Navy diving unit and trained with dolphins at the Naval School of Explosive Ordnance Disposal in Florida. He served in southern Iraq in 2003, removing underwater mines that posed a threat to ships, family said.

In February he was sent to Iraq again, this time to work on land. He was assigned to support the combined joint task force and the U.S. Army's 3rd Ordinance Battalion (EOD) and 4th Infantry Division, family said.

In correspondence with his family, Petty Officer Koth said he was assigned to a unit that slowly scoured Baghdad, looking for roadside bombs and unexploded ordnance. He was the team's primary robot operator.

His family, who did not grant interviews yesterday, said earlier that they were proud that Petty Officer Koth had saved the lives of fellow troops and Iraqi civilians in his work. Petty Officer Koth was awarded the Bronze Star, the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, and a number of other commendations.

Little was said of his military life at yesterday's service, which focused instead on the impression he left on friends and family in Towson and Baltimore.

In addition to his mother, Petty Officer Koth is survived by his father, Gerard Koth, a psychologist, two sisters and a brother.

He was engaged to be married. The family's limousine led a long motorcade from the cathedral to a private burial ceremony.

"It's true that Austin's death was a tragic death - really, a blight on the human family worldwide," said retired Auxiliary Bishop William C. Newman, who participated in the funeral Mass. "But Austin had a noble death. We thank Austin for his contagious spirit of loyalty and patriotism."

john.fritze@baltsun.com

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