Heartbreaking goodbye

Marine leaves legacy of devotion, service

September 07, 2006|By Nicole Fuller | Nicole Fuller,Sun reporter

Yesterday's funeral for a hero of the war in Iraq echoed with jubilant church songs and the cries of a young boy for his father.

Malachi E. Williams, 4, cried at the start of the service for his father, Staff Sgt. Dwayne E. Williams, in the chapel at the March Funeral Home in Northwest Baltimore, where 30 pews were filled by mourners for the Marine killed two weeks ago while trying to dismantle a bomb.

The sergeant's mother, Florence Brenda Williams Randall, also sobbed as she was presented with his Purple Heart - the medal awarded to those wounded or killed in action.

And some of the two dozen uniformed Marines who stood so stoically as they saluted his casket emerged from the chapel with downcast stares, some with watery eyes.

Sergeant Williams, 28, a graduate of Fairmont-Harford High School, was raised in North Baltimore and Edmondson Village but most recently lived in Havelock, N.C., with his wife, La'Star Williams, and their son, Malachi.

A member of an elite explosive ordnance disposal team who was awarded the Bronze Star for his skill, he died in Iraq's Al Anbar province Aug. 24. He will be buried today at Arlington National Cemetery.

"Dwayne had a mild-mannered personality with a quiet strength," said his cousin, Shirley Richards, reading from a printed obituary during the service. "He always had a positive word or smile to offer. Dwayne was known to joke or find the humor in every situation."

He was eulogized as a man dedicated equally to his family and his military service, using his relationship with God to soldier through three tours in Iraq - under some of the most strenuous circumstances.

Just a few weeks before his death, he suffered three concussions when bombs detonated near him.

His legacy, said the Rev. Thomas Rich of River of Life Christian Center in Camp Springs, will be of a man who stood strong in the face of adversity.

"Imagine being called to go into areas that most people are looking to avoid, with courage and faith," Mr. Rich said. "This brother was so humble that he took on a task in life that was dangerous, so phenomenal, so incredible, but he never even talked about it."

In calls home to his wife, Sergeant Williams was always reassuring of his safety, Mr. Rich said of the Marine who years before had dedicated himself to God and sang in his church choir.

"No matter what was going on, you still had your way of calling home and making me laugh as if it were just a breeze," his wife wrote in remarks also read at the service.

"When he would talk to his beautiful wife, he would say, `I don't know what tomorrow holds, but you must pray and thank God everyday when you get up,'" Mr. Rich said.

In January 2005, he was chosen to help the Secret Service check for explosives during President Bush's inauguration. Since June, Sergeant Williams and his team of explosive ordnance disposal technicians - based at Camp Taqaddum in central Iraq - went on more than 100 missions. He had enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1997.

One of his comrades, Master Sgt. Hal White, also addressed the mourners - and explained why he had to read it from a sheet of paper.

"Dwayne was a really good friend of mine, so I'm going to read this or else I might not get through," Sergeant White said.

The two met in December 2002 in Kuwait while preparing to head to Iraq. Together they lived out of a truck and weathered sandstorms, developing a bond.

"He was my go-to guy for anything," White said. "He was what I called the golden child, because he could do no wrong in my eyes."

nicole.fuller@baltsun.com

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