His wife, mother stay strong for his daughter

Sgt. Michael Rowe was killed in Iraq, but the memory of him lives on through his loved ones.

Published March 25, 2007

NEW PORT RICHEY - For 8-month-old Nevaeh, her father exists in photos, a handsome soldier mugging for the camera.

Sgt. Michael Rowe now lives in the home movies of Christmases and soccer games when he was a kid.

His name is pressed into the dog tag his daughter wears that reads "It's a girl: Nevaeh Elizabeth Rowe." The back has her father's name, birthday and when he died: March 28, 2006, the day before he would have turned 24.

Nearly a year has passed since a roadside bomb claimed Rowe's life in Iraq. Nevaeh is too young to make sense of the photos and the home movies and the dog tag. But two generations of women are quietly working to preserve his memory for the little girl he left behind.

* * *

After the loss of a loved one, a different kind of dread sets in.

"I'm afraid of losing the feeling of him being fresh and people talking about him," said Marcy Rowe, Michael's mother.

Of course she can't forget. To Marcy, he was more than just a sergeant in the 46th Engineer Battalion, Warrior Brigade. More than the 116th Florida soldier to die in Iraq.

He was No. 6 on the soccer field. An amateur photographer. The daredevil who, at age 17, took a dive out of a 70-foot tree.

"The emergency room had his name on it," Marcy said. "He was all boy."

She visits his grave once a month. She's inviting friends over Saturday to celebrate his life.

But remembering hurts. She struggles to look at the home movies that document the small triumphs in Michael's short life.

The movies that she promises, someday, to compile into a DVD for Nevaeh.

"I'm glad (the baby is) a girl," Marcy said. "A boy ... that would have been really tough."

* * *

Shy and cautious, Rebecca Rowe was immediately drawn to Michael.

"He was very outgoing and adventurous," she said. "He was always looking for something to get himself into."

They met in sixth grade. He grew on her during photography class at Gulf High School. They married Feb. 2, 2004. She lost him two years later.

But life didn't stop. It came three and a half months later, with the birth of Nevaeh. Rebecca and Michael picked the name together. Heaven spelled backward.

Rebecca keeps Michael's ring on her finger. She keeps his medals and awards in a display cabinet for Nevaeh to look at when she's older.

Now 21, Rebecca has taken up swing dancing to force herself out of her shell and meet people. She plans to pursue her GED (she dropped out of high school in 10th grade). She wants to go to college for graphic art and photography.

Just like Michael would have wanted.

"He wouldn't want everybody to be sad," she said. "He would want everybody to keep moving."

* * *

Little Nevaeh laughs often and seems at ease with people. Her eyes and ears tip out, and she bites her tongue when she concentrates.

The family wants to teach Nevaeh about her father. But when the blue-eyed baby plays with a musical toy, Marcy just smiles.

"Her mannerisms, they just remind me of Mike."

Camille C. Spencer can be reached at (727) 869-6229 or cspencer@sptimes.com.

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How to help

A scholarship fund has been set up at Gulf High School by Sgt. 1st Class Garry Utterback in honor of Sgt. Michael D. Rowe. To donate, send checks or money orders to: Sgt. Michael D. Rowe Memorial Scholarship, Pasco Education Foundation, P.O. Box 1248, Land O'Lakes, FL, 34639. For information on scholarship requirements, call Utterback at 1-877-245-9839.