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Navy honors sailor killed in Iraq

OAK HARBOR — He had the go-get-’em gusto of a professional wrestler, set off by the wild whiskers of a mountain man or a rock-n-roll rebel like Elvis.

A somber crowd of sailors from Naval Air Station Whidbey Island gave a tear-filled farewell Tuesday to Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Kevin Bewley at a memorial service in the Navy’s base movie theater.

Bewley, a member of an elite Navy bomb squad based in Oak Harbor, was the sixth sailor from Whidbey Island killed in Iraq this year. He was killed in action in Salah ad Din province, Iraq on Nov. 8 after diffusing a roadside bomb.

A crowd of more than 130 sailors and civilians gathered to pay their respects as Bewley’s shipmates recalled the man with the “million dollar smile.”

“He was a war fighter,” said Lt. Cmdr. Thomas Murphy, the executive officer of Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit 11.

Cmdr. Joseph DiGuardo Jr., Bewley’s commanding officer, said his men who are known as knights, braves and warriors.

“Kevin Bewley was one of them,” DiGuardo said. “Kevin Bewley was an American fighting sailor. Kevin Bewley was a warrior.”

DiGuardo recalled that from Bewley’s first day working on the bomb squad, the young man’s enthusiasm was unparalleled.

“Even as he came to understand the full magnitude of his new career and the enormity of the responsibility, he never faltered,” DiGuardo said. “Kevin became driven with mastering his environment. He strove tirelessly to understand every detail of the equipment he used and the problems he would face.”

“On the day he was taken from us, he was armored by today’s finest technology and by the mettle of his outstanding character,” DiGuardo added. “But on that day, the enemy got a vote. On that day, evil triumphed over good.”

Rear Adm. Michael Tillotson, deputy commander of Naval Expeditionary Combat Command, said being a warrior was only a part of the equation. The other part was service, to country and to mankind.

“When we are growing up, we all have choices to make. Service is one that many people make. Bewley served mankind by serving his nation, not only in the Army but in the Navy as well,” Tillotson said.

Many of the sailors who served with Bewley in Iraq sent letters of condolence, and Master Chief Petty Officer Dale Rock struggled to read their words of loss. His voice cracked with emotion, and the sailor paused occasionally as he shared the sailors’ letters.

Lt. Junior Lora, Bewley’s company commander in Iraq, had first met the sailor in March and recalled Bewley’s warm southern nature.

“I hardly exaggerate in the least bit when I say that Kevin will be sorely missed,” wrote Lora. “In all my years in the Navy, I never met someone who exuded such positive energy as him. K.B. was a man who enjoyed life. I’ve never seen him anything but happy.”

Bewley had a well recognizable chuckle and the enthusiasm like professional wrestler Ric Flair enthusiasm, Bewley added, that helped Lora get through his days.

“He showed greatness in believing in the good of people. He didn’t bother with negativity. He didn’t have room for it,” Lora said.

Lora also recalled how much Bewley enjoyed his work.

“He did his job, he did it well and he did it with a million dollar smile,” Lora said. “Simply put, K.B. was the man.”

Senior Chief Petty Officer Chuck Leonard appreciated Bewley’s outlook on life as well.

“Kevin was one of my boys. He represented everything that is good in life,” Leonard wrote.

“He is a shining example of what all people should strive to be, a beacon of sanity in an insane world.”

Rock recalled a visit to Bewley’s detachment in Iraq. The chief had been warned that the men in Bewley’s company had grown their whiskers out during the deployment, Bewley included. Rock found the warning was true.

“This guy could grow a serious deployment mustache, Elvis chops and all,” Rock said, eliciting laughter from his fellow sailors.

“When I got there, it was a cross between a Grizzly Adams and Elvis Presley. He definitely was in control of some seriously out-of-control facial hair.”

Rock said Bewley was a remarkable man.

“He was a responsible, trustworthy and extremely reliable man,” he said. “He was a quiet man of few words. But when he spoke, the words had substance.”

Petty Officer 1st Class Brian Stanley stood up and Rock hugged him, patting his back loudly. After Rock sat down, Stanley walked to the podium, but it took a few moments for him to collect himself.

“Whoever cast those votes, I don’t count them,” Stanley finally said as he struggled through tears. “They wouldn’t have cast those votes if they’d known who KB was.”

He recalled their first deployment to Iraq.

“One of my favorite memories from that deployment was from a mail call. He’d gotten five or six packages but he only opened one per day,” Stanley said. “I thought it would be torture but he thought it was Christmas every day.”

In the first package was a stack of letters from second- and third-grade students in Arkansas, filled with the random thoughts and questions of youngsters.

“We both sat and laughed about how random the letters were,” he said. “Kevin and I sat up most of the night pretty much talking about what the kids were going through. It was one of the most meaningful talks I’ve ever had with anybody.”

The next morning, Stanley watched as Bewley put pen to paper and answered each child’s letter with one of his own.

“I just wondered today if they realized how lucky they really are,” he said, through tears. “This Thanksgiving, I was able to be thankful I got an opportunity to tell Kevin how much I cared about him before he left on deployment.”

To Petty Officer 2nd Class Jeffrey Swanson and others, Bewley was a dedicated father.

“Kevin’s greatest joy was his beautiful daughter, 4-year-old McKinnzie,” Swanson said.

“He was a devoted father. Our floors were covered with tents, sleeping bags, tree stands and fishing equipment, while the walls were adorned with colorful pretty pony water colors and Dora the Explorer coloring books.”

After sailors from their unit were killed in Iraq, Stanley and Bewley talked about what to say if either of them died and recalled his friend’s advice.

“So from Kevin, I tell you, quit crying. Get back to work. There are teams over there that still need our support. Stay in the fight. Never let my passing waver you from your beliefs or your courage,” Stanley recounted.

“Kevin Bewley, senior explosive ordnance disposal technician, roommate, friend, brother to Patrick, son to Duke and Connie and father to McKinnzie. In EODMU-11, you will be missed.”

Bewley, who had served a two-year hitch in the Army National Guard in 1999 and enlisted in the Navy at 21 years old in November 2001, was 27 when he was killed. His funeral was earlier this year in his hometown of Hector, Ark.

“He was our brother, a member of a sacred fellowship sworn to defend our constitution,” DiGuardo said.

“And within that fellowship, he was a hero, one of the nation’s greatest sons. His courage and character have branded the hearts of each and every one of us. Kevin Bewley, we thank you for your friendship and your brotherhood. You will not be forgotten.”

Bewley was the sixth sailor from the Navy’s bomb disposal unit in Oak Harbor to die this year in Iraq.

In July, Chief Petty Officer Patrick Wade and Petty Officer 1st Class Jeffrey Chaney were killed and Petty Officer David Hauxhurst was seriously injured when a roadside bomb exploded underneath their armored vehicle.

Chief Petty Officer Gregory John Billiter, Petty Officer 1st Class Joseph Adam McSween and Petty Officer 2nd Class Curtis Ralph Hall died April 6, when a rocket hit their Humvee in Hawijah.

Spencer Webster can be reached at 221-5300 or swebster@southwhidbeyrecord.com.

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