Marine from Baltimore killed in Iraq

Marine from Baltimore killed in Iraq
U.S. Marine Staff Sgt. Kendall Damon Waters-Bey
One of the first U.S. casualties of the Iraqi war was a 29-year-old Marine from Northeast Baltimore who joined the corps out of high school and leaves behind a wife and young son and a grieving family that mourns his loss while questioning the necessity of the conflict.

Staff Sgt. Kendall D. Waters-Bey, who grew up not far from Herring Run Park and attended Northern and Harbor City high schools, was among 12 servicemen - eight British commandos and four U.S. Marines - who died Thursday night when their helicopter crashed and burned about nine miles south of Umm Qasr, an Iraqi town near the Kuwait border.

"Man, I'm devastated," said Michael Waters-Bey, the Marine's father, who received the news every parent of a serviceman at war dreads about 3 a.m. yesterday. "He was my only son, my oldest child."

"I couldn't believe it until the Marines came to my door" to offer condolences early yesterday afternoon, he said.

Michelle Waters, the oldest of the dead Marine's four sisters, criticized the U.S. government for starting the hostilities.

"It's all for nothing, that war could have been prevented," she said last night in the living room of the family home, tears running down her cheeks. "Now, we're out of a brother. [President] Bush is not out of a brother. We are."

Based at Camp Pendleton in California, Waters-Bey had taken his 10-year-old son, Kenneth, to live with him in San Diego last Thanksgiving. But he sent Kenneth back to Baltimore to live with the boy's mother when he received his orders to go to Kuwait in February.

The boy said that after moving to California his father took him to a gun range, showed him around the military base and played ball with him.

"I'm feeling sad now because my father is gone and I won't see him again," said Kenneth, who is in the fifth grade at Halstead Academy in Hillendale, Baltimore County.

Waters-Bey was the crew chief of the CH-46 Sea Knight, a bus-like helicopter with twin rotors used to fly troops to forward positions. The model is a Vietnam War-era aircraft that has been beset in recent years by mechanical difficulties.

Reports of the age and troubled history of helicopters like the one Waters-Bey was flying in when it crashed - apparently by accident - bothered his father. "The U.S. government owes me an explanation," Michael Waters-Bey said.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and a Marine spokesman issued statements of condolences yesterday, as did Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley.

O'Malley, who called the Waters-Bey family early yesterday evening, ordered flags at city buildings to fly at half-staff in Waters-Bey's honor.

"On behalf of the citizens of Baltimore, I extend my heartfelt condolences to his family, many friends and all who have been touched by his life and untimely death," the mayor's statement said.

The other U.S. Marines killed in Thursday's crash were Maj. Jay Thomas Aubin, 36, of Waterville, Maine; Capt. Ryan Anthony Beaupre, 30, of Bloomington, Ill., and Cpl. Brian Matthew Kennedy, 25, of Houston.

Tawanda Poteat, Kenneth's mother and Waters-Bey's first wife, was pregnant when Waters-Bey decided to join the Marines.

"He said he wanted to get away from being on the streets," Michael Waters-Bey said. "He wanted to do something positive to take care of his son."

A steady stream of friends called and stopped by the family's modest rowhouse yesterday, many weeping openly, others holding back tears.

"Neighbors are taking it like family members. That's how good a person he was," Michael Waters-Bey said.

One neighbor, Darrell Holland, described Waters-Bey as "the nicest person you'd ever want to meet."

"The smile on his face tells you everything," Holland said. "You couldn't get a better brother, cousin or son."

"He was always making jokes," said another sister, Shernell Waters-Bey. "He would cut up. He'd make funny faces. He'd walk funny."

She said she was working the night shift at the Rite Aid warehouse in Harford County when a co-worker told her a helicopter had crashed and four U.S. servicemen had been killed.

"I wasn't thinking too much of it," she said. "Out of four people, I wouldn't ever imagine in my wildest dreams one of them would be my brother."

She learned of her brother's death when she arrived at the family home after getting off work and her mother, Angela Waters-Bey, was on the phone.

"I got to get off and tell Nellie," she heard her mother say.

"Tell Nellie what?" she asked.

"Kenny's gone," her mother said.

Poteat, Waters-Bey's first wife, said she had more of a premonition when she heard about the crash on television, even before the names of those killed were released.

That's because on Thursday, she and young Kenneth seemed to talk more than usual about Waters-Bey. Poteat had agreed she was going to try to get a computer for her son so that he could send e-mails to his father in the Iraqi desert.

"It was really odd for us to talk so much about his father on any day like we did that day," Poteat said. "Then when I heard about the crash, I just got a really bad feeling, like that's why his father was on his mind so much."

Waters-Bey is also survived by his wife, Belinda Waters-Bey of San Diego, Calif., and two other sisters, Sharita Waters-Bey and Nakia Waters, both of Baltimore.

Family members said they were told that Waters-Bey's body would be flown first to Germany and then to California. Funeral arrangements were pending.

Sun staff writers Lane Harvey Brown, Doug Donovan and Tanika White and wire reports contributed to this article.