Family members huddled on a couch, smiling and crying as they leafed through photographs of Kendall Damon Waters-Bey — their brother, their son.
His father showed off a picture of Kendall and Kendall's 10-year-old son holding a fish they caught during a trip to Florida. His sisters recalled Kendall as a jokester.
"He was always making faces, making people laugh," said 28-year-old Michelle Waters, a younger sister. "And he loved to barbecue — ribs, especially."
Staff Sgt. Kendall Damon Waters-Bey, 29, was one of the four U.S. Marines who died in a helicopter crash in Kuwait on Thursday. Together with eight British Marines also on board and two U.S. Marines killed in combat, they were the first allied casualties of the war in Iraq. On Saturday, a helicopter crash left an American Naval officer and six British crewmembers missing and presumed dead.
At a Washington news conference Friday, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld expressed gratitude for their sacrifice. "The world will be a safer place because of their dedicated service," he said.
In their hometowns, meanwhile, the soldiers' families were trying to come to grips with the news.
"I was devastated. My only son, my first-born, gone," said Waters-Bey's father, Michael. Thanksgiving holiday last year was the last the family saw of Kendall.
Michael Waters-Bey said he did not support the war. 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."
In addition to Waters-Bey, the Pentagon identified the Marines killed in the helicopter crash as Maj. Jay Thomas Aubin, 36, of Waterville, Maine; the pilot, Capt. Ryan Anthony Beaupre, 30, of Bloomington, Ill.; and Cpl. Brian Matthew Kennedy, 25, of Houston. Aubin was from a unit out of Yuma, Ariz., while the other three were out of Camp Pendleton, Calif.
In St. Anne, Ill., Beaupre's father, Mark, had a premonition after hearing that a helicopter had crashed, and he knew what was happening when the family dog began barking before dawn Friday. At his door was a delegation of Marines to tell him that his son was among the dead.
"He was just nervous and on edge," related the Rev. James Fanale, who heads the family's church. "Then the dog started barking at 3 in the morning, and Mark said, 'There they are.'"
"We used to say he was married to the Marines and having an affair with his surfboard," said Ryan Beaupre's sister, Alyse Beaupre, 31, standing in front of the home where the family's four children grew up.
Beaupre was a dean's list student at Illinois Wesleyan University who worked at State Farm Insurance in Bloomington after graduating with an accounting degree in 1995. He was to be the best man at his brother's wedding this November.
"He was my best friend and my hero," said Christopher Beaupre, 22.
U.S. officials did not immediately identify the two Marines killed in combat; both were members of the U.S. 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. Allied forces got another blow Saturday when a U.S. Navy officer was killed along with six British troops as two helicopters collided over the Persian Gulf.
As talk of war began, Jay Aubin knew he would probably be among the first to enter combat, according to his father, Tom, and stepmother, who live in the central Texas town of Bangs. He asked his stepmother to protect his father, who has a bad heart.
"He told me this summer, don't tell this to dad, but if something starts up, I'll be right in the thick of it," Carol Aubin said.
Kennedy graduated from high school in Glenview, Ill., with honors in 1995, then attended Purdue University before transferring to Texas Tech in 1998, according to his father. He enlisted the next year.
"He gave his life in an effort to contribute to the freedom of the Iraqi people," Mark D. Kennedy, 52, said Friday from his Houston home. "We just miss him terribly already. He was a wonderful man."
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