United in grief and pride for three sons

A memorial service for a Marine who died one year ago brings together families and fellow Marines. Two from the same church have been killed in Iraq.

Published August 6, 2006

TAMPA - Rev. Bruce Turner stood in front of an America flag so big it could have covered the stage, and bowed his head.

"We ask that there might be a revival of patriotism in this country," he prayed.

In front of him, eyes closed, sat the family of Marine Lance Cpl. Kevin Waruinge, killed a year ago Saturday in Iraq.

To his left, sat the family of Army Sgt. Bryan Luckey, killed June 29 in Iraq.

Two men from the same church in the same city. Apart in age by few years, apart in death by less than one.

What a friend we have in Jesus, the people sang, all our sins and grief to bear.

The memorial for Waruinge at West Gate Baptist Church, attended by about 120, was all flags, Bibles and rifles. People wiped their eyes and hugged each other and talked about the 22-year-old they called "Workhorse."

He was a mechanic and good at fixing engines. And when he wasn't fixing engines, he was carrying a rifle because even the mechanics have to fight sometimes.

"I wish I had a bunch of 'em like him," said Marine Gunnery Sgt. Danny Wade, who flew in from Gulfport, Miss.

Kevin Waruinge wore thick glasses and liked video games and soccer and reading science fiction. His family moved from Kenya in 1997, and he became a U.S. citizen after he joined the Marine Corps.

Friends and fellow Marines describe him as one of the good guys, a man who respected his girlfriend and a devout young Christian who told people about Jesus and watched his mouth.

"Marines, you know, sometimes we use colorful language - some words my mom doesn't even think I know," said Lance Cpl. Terrance Bullock. "But Kevin wouldn't say those words no matter how hard you tried to get him to."

He was attached to the Marine Corps Reserve's 4th Assault Amphibian Battalion, 4th Marine Division, in Gulfport. He had transferred from Tampa to the Gulfport unit after enrolling in school at Pensacola Christian College.

He was among 14 Marines killed by a roadside bomb near the city of Haditha in western Iraq on Aug. 3, 2005. Gunnery Sgt. Wade was in the vehicle behind Waruinge when the bomb detonated. "It was just horrible," he said. "Probably the worst thing I've ever seen."

Some at the memorial used the opportunity to criticize those who question the war.

"For two years now they stood between us and terrorism," said Ron Payne of Lakeland, whose son, Ronald, also a Marine, was killed May 7, 2004, in Afghanistan. "And there hasn't been another 9/11."

Waruinge's father spoke briefly.

"The strength of our nation is built on devotion and sacrifice," he said.

Ben Montgomery can be reached at montgomery@sptimes.com or 661-2443.