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From coast to coast, families mourn

Communities remember the first fallen warriors as patriotic Americans - and as dedicated sons and fathers, neighbors and husbands.

©Associated Press

March 23, 2003

They were from every corner of America, these young men, and from every corner of America they are now being mourned.

They perished on the battlefield in the service of their country, fighters, who might have remained anonymous but for their deaths in the desert dust. They are among the first casualties of war.

In the town of St. Anne, Ill., it seemed that all 1,300 residents flocked to a Friday memorial Mass for Capt. Ryan Beaupre, remembered for the generous way he surrendered his turn on the phone lines in Kuwait to others who had wives and children. They needed the contact more, he reasoned, and so he wrote letters instead.

That is the way Beaupre, 30, is being eulogized: the kind of guy who always did the right thing, in the nicest possible way.

And so they held a Mass in his honor. And they joked about his love of surfing, and flying. Similar tributes were made to other local heroes in other hometowns around the country.

Maj. Jay Thomas Aubin of Waterville, Maine. Cpl. Brian Matthew Kennedy of Houston. Staff Sgt. Kendall Damon Waters-Bey of Baltimore. They died with Beaupre and eight British Marines as their CH-46E Sea Knight helicopter crashed nine miles from the Iraqi border, killing Beaupre and his fellow crew members.

The crash occurred as allied Army and Marine units surged across the Kuwaiti border into southern Iraq on Thursday and Friday.

Their deaths were followed, hours later, by the news that two more Marines, members of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, had been lost in ground combat: 2nd Lt. Therrel S. Childers of Mississippi and Lance Cpl. Jose Gutierrez of Los Angeles.

And on Saturday, Lt. Thomas Mullen Adams, 27, of La Mesa, Calif., was killed in a collision of two British helicopters over international waters.

The message of death came to families in all sorts of ways -- in the sight of a government car pulling into a drive, in a phone call or even a premonition.

In Winslow, Maine, Nancy Chamberlain felt a sense of foreboding Thursday night watching television reports that a chopper had gone down. She thought of her 36-year-old son, Jay Aubin, who joined the Marines and went to college purely to become a pilot. He was bursting with pride when told he was in line to fly Marine One when he returned to his Yuma, Ariz., base.

Chamberlain got the official word Friday morning, when Marines showed up at her door.

Now she struggles with trying to to preserve his memory for his two children, Alicia, 10, and Nathan. 7, who live in Yuma with their mother, Rhonda, a former Marine.

"He went with bells on," his mother said. "He's a Corps man through and through."

They were all true Corps men, these first fallen warriors -- young, proud, sure of their mission. Their families draw strength from that.

Some families offered patriotic statements about the meaning of their loved ones' deaths.

"He gave his life in an effort to contribute to the freedom of the Iraqi people," Mark Kennedy of Houston wrote in a statement about his 25-year-old son, Brian. "We are so very proud of him and his service to his country."

But sitting at home, staring at a photograph of his son in his Marine dress uniform, reminiscing about Brian's love of football and lacrosse, patriotism and pride seems overwhelmed by a father's pain.

"We just miss him terribly already," the father said.

In Baltimore another father mourned another son, smiling through tears at how much Kendall Waters-Bey, 29, loved barbecued ribs -- and fishing with his 10-year-old son, Kenneth.

But for this father, anger mixed with pain. Michael Waters-Bey thinks his son, a staff sergeant specialist in helicopter maintenance, died needlessly in a war that does not make sense.

Holding up a photograph of his son, Michael Waters-Bey said he wished he could speak directly to the dead Marine's commander-in-chief.

Asked what he would tell President Bush, he said: "This was not your son or daughter. That chair he sat in at Thanksgiving will be empty forever."

Little Kenneth had a less complicated sense of loss.

"I'm feeling sad now because my father is gone and I won't see him again," the fifth-grader said.

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