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A hole in the heart

Growing up in rural Arkansas, Kevin and Patrick Bewley lived in their vivid imaginations, concocting and acting out adventures in which the brothers played the heroes.

“It was nothing to hear them shoot AK47s out of their windows,”  Connie Whitaker, the boys’ mother, recalled. “They’d cut loose and I’d almost wet my pants.”

Years later, now young men, the inseparable siblings struck out on their own, seeking new, real world adventures. The elder brother Patrick ascended to the position of vice-president of consulting services at Raine Media, a San Francisco-based consultancy, and is now attending Harvard. Kevin joined the Navy and became a member of the elite Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit 11, based out of Whidbey Island Naval Air Station. And then he died.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Kevin Bewley was killed by a rocket-powered grenade Monday in Iraq’s Sala ad Din Province. The 27-year-old became the sixth EODMU-11 fatality since April.

The devoted sailor was an anachronism, a throwback to a more chivalrous time. His heart was healthy but overgrown. Helping an older woman into her car was not a decision, it was an involuntary action. Ron “Duke” Bewley, Kevin’s father, dined with his two sons at the Mad Crab during his last visit to Whidbey Island.

“Pat and I were served our food,” Ron said. “I looked over at Kevin and he had his head bowed. Just like his grandpa, he was saying a prayer.”

Dinner blessings were not the only similarity between Kevin and his grandfather.

“He was exactly like my dad,” Ron said. “When he would get worked up about something, he’d walk away and remove himself from the situation. He didn’t like anything too fancy. He was a simple man, my son.”

Kevin scraped the cobwebs off of his once imagined childhood heroism when he saw his grandfather collapse. The young man processed the emergency and immediately administered CPR.

“My son is a hero,” Ron said. “He got into the ambulance with his grandpa and they couldn’t get him out of there.”

When the grandfather was again laid up after being struck by a drunk driver, Kevin again donned the yoke, insisting that he stay with J.M., which stood for James Madison, during his convalescence.

“I told him it was my job to do that, but he wanted to go,” Ron said. “He loved listening to his grandpa.”

Kevin’s family is a complete unit that cannot easily exist without each inimitable piece. Monday’s tragedy removed a vital piece and no adjective exists to adequately quantify the void.

“My boy gave up his life,” Ron said. “He’ll never come home. I’ll just have to do the best I can.”

Sailor leaves his special girl

Aside from doting parents and a brother with whom he shared an unbreakable bond, Kevin left behind McKenzie Dannyale Bewley, his 4-year-old daughter. Stricken with cerebral palsy, some experts have concluded that the bright child will never walk. Ron doesn’t need a second opinion. He has his own.

“I ain’t ever going to give up,” he said. “She calls me Papa Duke. She’s got the personality of her daddy.”

Whitaker and Kevin’s daughter visited the sailor in September.

“We would take McKenzie to the beach for treasure hunts,” she said. “She is truly her dad’s daughter. She’s 4-years-old and pulls pranks. Our whole family does that, actually. It’s our sense of humor.”

Kevin never disparaged his government. He took an oath and carried out his duties with calculated dedication. His mother, however, knew that his reason for staying in the Navy was deeper.

“The main reason he stayed in the military was so he could have insurance for McKenzie and coverage for the rest of her life,” she said. The 4-year-old has been residing in San Antonio with Kevin’s ex-wife Jennifer, who Whitaker said is still part of the family. “My son will always be an amazing man who loved his family, loved his daughter beyond words, and loved his ex-wife. He was extraordinary.”

After returning from his first deployment to Iraq, Kevin and Patrick traveled to the Yukon Territory, picking up where they left off decades before in Arkansas. The brothers planned an equally unique excursion in the spring; another adventure the duo will never have a chance to experience.

Kevin’s second deployment seemed to have a carapace of ominousness. Although he told his father mere days before his death that the conditions were better than the first tour, Ron knew better.

“He didn’t tell me that he was nervous, but I could tell,” he said. “He knew it was a no-win situation.”

“He never talked about dying over there,” Whitaker said.

Most parents would agree that losing a child is unnatural, best likened to the forced surgical removal of a part of themselves they were never mentally prepared to lose. Whitaker’s grief is palpable; it consumes her. But she tempers that grief with rage.

Angry mother lashes out

“The grief comes in stages,” she said. “I’m angry with Kevin. I’m angry he left. I’m livid with rage with the government. My son died for the bumbling arrogance of this administration. Kevin, like the other men and women in uniform, are the real Americans. This administration and those in Congress who support this war are just wannabe Americans.

“Patton said you do not die for your country, you make those bastards die for theirs. Our men and women in uniform are being slaughtered and sacrificed because of a failure of this administration to negotiate and act in a manner appropriate for the situation.”

She said that the president’s “bring it on” mentality does not affect his or the vice president’s progeny.

“It affects the brave ones who choose to serve their country for the right reasons,” Whitaker said.

During Whitaker’s September trip to Oak Harbor three weeks before her son’s second deployment, she made the most impassioned and frantic appeal of her life, forming the words that most mothers will never have to utter.

“I told him we are going to go out somewhere and I’m going to shoot you in the foot,” she said. “That way he wouldn’t have to go back. I was dead serious. I hate myself for not doing it. I failed and I will never forgive myself. If I had done it, I’d still have my son and McKenzie would have her father.”

Both of Kevin’s parents are determined to ensure that their son’s untimely death was not in vain. Whitaker may create discomfort among some of the servicemen and women attending the fallen sailor’s funeral service, but she is fed up with sitting on the sidelines.

“I’m going to ask every man who comes to Kevin’s funeral one-on-one not to go back,” she said. “I’m going to plead with them. I don’t want their mothers to have to go through what we’re going through. This war is ridiculous. It’s not World War II. I have to do what I can to honor Kevin and save as many men and women in the military as I can.”

Father says,

fight to win

“I support the military 100 percent, but fight to win or come home,”  Ron said. “There doesn’t need to be one more American boy or girl killed. Something has to change.”

Whitaker said the current administration’s notion that those who do not support the war therefore do not support the troops is a “load of hooey.” Politicians should lead by example, she added.

“How many men and women in Congress who are supporting this war have sons or daughters in Iraq? When are Americans going to get up and demand of their elected officials that if they want to start a war they better have a dog of their own to throw into the theater of war?” the angry mother asked. “How dare they have the audacity to ask one of our beautiful men or women in uniform to go fight, possibly be physically or emotionally maimed for the rest of his or her life, or to die for a cause they only support with empty words.”

Kevin’s memorial service will almost coincide with Veterans Day. His mother, through tears, beseeched people to embrace the selfless military personnel who have given their lives over to a greater cause.

“On Veterans Day, find someone and hug them and thank them,” she said. “And you tell them how much Kevin’s family supports them.”

Whitaker’s wish for her son to come home has been granted in the most tragic way. Kevin will be buried one-and-a-half miles from where he was raised.

“Kevin lived life and saw things so simply,” she said. “Just basic, that’s the way he was. There’s not a senator or any politician up there in Washington that voted for this war who is half the man my son was. They are like filthy rags compared to him. His ethics, his honor, his character, he was a bright shining star. That was Kevin.”

No dates have been set for memorial services.

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