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Soldier finally left all behind

Mourners remember Kevin Joseph Smith of Brandon, who died in Iraq last week.

By S.I. ROSENBAUM
Published December 13, 2005

BRANDON - Every time 1st Lt. Kevin Joseph Smith left home, he left something behind.

Socks. Wallet. Once, he even left his Army uniform, and his father and stepmother had to send it to him by overnight mail.

When Smith, 28, died last week in Iraq, he left other things behind, his stepmother, Joann Smith, said at his funeral on Monday: a family who loved him and a fiancee he had planned to marry this winter.

Smith was killed by an insurgent's bomb as his unit of engineers traveled along the Tigris River, his father, Clifford, said last week.

He had been in Iraq for about six months. He was scheduled to return in about 40 days.

On Monday, Smith's fiancee, Dana Scherry of Savannah, Ga., greeted mourners at the door of Immanuel Lutheran Church & School in Brandon, where Smith's mother teaches and where he attended first through seventh grade.

Pictures on a bulletin board behind Scherry showed her with Smith, her slight body dwarfed by his broad-shouldered, 6-foot-4 frame.

"He was going to whisk her away and make it official," Joann Smith said after the ceremony.

Smith's mother, Georgie Stephens, stood beside Scherry and greeted each mourner with an embrace.

"Celebrate his joy and his memories," she said to one woman who seemed on the edge of tears.

"We want a celebration."

Many of the mourners wore the uniforms of the Army, Navy and Air Force.

"We knew him, but there's probably military people who didn't know him here, too, out of respect to his duty," said Navy Cmdr. Rich Steinstel as he stood in the receiving line in his dress uniform. His son had played soccer with Smith, growing up.

In his sermon, the Rev. Kenneth Farnsworth noted that Iraqi elections are taking place this week: "The Iraqi people will be exercising their freedom this week, freedom the rest of us take for granted. .. It's men like 1st Lt. Smith who are willing to lay their lives down for that freedom."

Farnsworth said that Clifford Smith had asked him to encourage the congregation to support the military in Iraq. "Show 100 percent support, because that means everything for their morale."

He spoke of Smith's sense of duty. "When he wasn't in Iraq, he felt guilty because he wasn't there," Farnsworth said. "The Bible tells us there is no greater love than when a man lays down his life for another. ... He had that kind of love."

It was the same determination that Joann Smith said she finally recognized in her stepson.

She told the congregation that she had lain in bed the night before, picturing Smith in her mind.

"I could see him standing in our kitchen, standing in the yard towering over his dad by several inches, opening the refrigerator to see what had appeared there since the last time he looked," she said.

"I could see him on Thursday morning in the Hummer with his men. I wished so hard that I could turn back time and make it all not have happened."

Then, she said, she started thinking about all the objects he left behind every time he visited.

Her stepson wasn't careless, she realized: "This was Kevin focusing on what he had to do next. His mind was way ahead of the everyday stuff he had to keep up with - he was planning ahead and focusing on his duties."

She said she could see him then, in Iraq, "his handsome face with that total-focus expression I had come to know and love so dearly."

"Kevin is gone, and he left things behind," she said. "Hearts that ache at his loss so badly that it physically hurts and is hard to breathe. Tear-stained faces. Precious memories."

"These things we will keep with us," she said. "They don't need to be returned."

In addition to his mother, father, stepmother and fiancee, Smith is survived by his stepfather, Ancil Stephens, and his sister, Corena Martin.

--S.I. Rosenbaum can be reached at 813 661-2442 or srosenbaum@sptimes.com

[Last modified December 13, 2005, 04:17:19]


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