It was 1969. He had been in Vietnam for 10 months. On his seventh day in the country, he saw a woman drop hand grenades on his two best friends. Every day since, he had learned to hate a little more. Even the slightest recognition of humanity — his own or anyone else’s — could interfere with his work. Kevin’s job was to get information, to find out where the Viet Cong were located, and to kill them. And the young Marine from Washington was very good at his job.
But there were moments of stillness, often at night, when he retreated to the one corner of his heart where he still felt love. There he yearned for his high school sweetheart, Debi Waeber, and their baby, which she’d had — and given up for adoption — while he was at boot camp.
Now he’d never see them again. He had led a mission to rescue a downed pilot and encountered 150 North Vietnamese fighters, who fired upon his seven-man team. Five of them were dead, and Kevin was riddled with shrapnel, blood gushing from deep lesions on his left ankle and right knee.
“You’re supposed to be a big God,” he seethed, as the sun sank behind the thick jungle. Would a just God end the life of a man who had so much unfinished business on Earth?
All Kevin wanted was a chance — to be with the one woman he had ever loved and the child he had never met.
Debi was an eighth-grader when she first saw Kevin in 1966. She and her parents were at a football game at Washington’s Archbishop Carroll High School, the Catholic boys’ school her brother attended. There at the front of the stands was Kevin, a 10th-grade spectator rallying the crowd in a cheer. He was round-faced and blue-eyed — the cutest boy she had ever seen.
She spotted him again when she tried out for a play at his school the following year. This time he noticed her, too. “I’m gonna take that girl to homecoming,” he told his buddy.
He did, but before that he picked her up in his 1964 MG 1100 sedan and drove to a hamburger joint, where they shared a first kiss. The two were an immediate item, driving back and forth to play rehearsals, holding hands at dances and football games. Debi was all sweetness and warmth, from a tightknit family that adored Kevin.
The fourth of five siblings, Kevin was a first-rate smart aleck who had developed an armor of bombast. His dad had died when he was 7; his mother became a sometimes-violent alcoholic. By his junior year, he was living mostly in the back of a Washington gas station.
Debi was his refuge — the two never fought. They were soaringly in love and completely devoted to each other. Kevin’s younger sister, Ellen Pino, remembers a day when his car wouldn’t start. “He wasn’t worried about getting to school. He was worried about not seeing ‘his Debi.’ He was so upset, and his eyes filled with tears,” she recalls.