Kenneth E. Neptun, a senior at the Naval Academy who dreamed of flying airplanes, died Saturday at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda after a yearlong struggle with leukemia. He was 22.
Mr. Neptun had been studying for a bachelor's degree in oceanography when an aggressive form of the blood cancer was diagnosed. Doctors said it would respond only to transplanted bone marrow.
The search for a donor stretched far and wide. Fellow midshipmen, cadets at the Air Force and U.S. Military academies and his family and friends in a half-dozen states - about 4,000 people in all - had given blood in hopes of finding a match suitable for a transplant. No match was found.
His parents, Daniel and Wendy Neptun, moved to Annapolis last summer to be at his side as doctors administered radiation and chemotherapy.
Toward the end of his life, Mr. Neptun had set aside his dream of piloting Navy jets. "When I get healthy, I'm going to be a doctor instead," he told his mother.
Mr. Neptun was born into the military life. His father is a Coast Guard officer, and the family hop-scotched across the country every three years with each new assignment. Born in Seattle, Mr. Neptun spent his teen-age years in upstate New York and Florida.
Life on the move appealed to him, particularly the shifting stream of places and people.
"I chose the Naval Academy because it provided a larger sense of adventure," he said last month in a conversation recorded by his father. "It also provided me an opportunity to serve my country."
He knew about service before he got to the academy, having earned 52 merit badges and the rank of Eagle Scout in the Boy Scouts.
At the academy, he sang with the men's glee club and played on a club lacrosse team. He ran the Marine Corps Marathon in October 2000.
His easy smile, bear hugs and reputation for bucking up friends' spirits led one friend, a chaplain, to term his visits to Mr. Neptun his "Ken fix."
Last April, while studying for finals, he was overcome by sharp pain in his lower spine. Friends weren't used to hearing Mr. Neptun complain about anything; one thought he was fibbing to get out of a tennis game against a tough opponent.
But on May 2, doctors at the Navy hospital in Bethesda diagnosed acute lymphocytic leukemia. In childhood, the disease is curable - much more so than for adults.
By August, the treatments had sent his illness into remission, and Mr. Neptun returned to the academy. But three weeks later, the pain crept back and he was again in the hospital.
Early last week, Rear Adm. Gary Roughead, the academy's commandant when Mr. Neptun started at the school, and his wife, Ellen, visited him at the hospital. They mentioned in passing that they had trouble finding a parking spot.
When the couple returned for another visit Friday, Nr. Neptun's vision was blurry and he was having difficulty completing sentences. But he recognized his guests, kissed Mrs. Roughead on the cheek and said he hoped that they had had better luck parking this time.
They were his last words. To those who knew him, they were fitting.
"He cared about other people and paid attention to the little things," said his father.
Yesterday, Naval Academy officials called his death "a great loss."
"Ken truly exemplified our Navy's core values of honor, courage and commitment," Cmdr. Bill Spann, the school's spokesman, said in a statement.
Services will be held at 2 p.m. tomorrow at the U.S. Naval Academy Chapel.
In addition to his parents, Mr. Neptun is survived by two brothers, Benjamin Neptun of Seattle and Donald Neptun of Tacoma, Wash.; and his four grandparents in Washington state.
The family suggested donations to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, 1311 Mamaroneck Ave., White Plains, N.Y. 10605; or Lutheran World Relief, P.O. Box 17061, Baltimore 21298-9832.