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Deep Ambitions, Disrupted

Marine From District Who Pushed Others to Thrive Is Killed in Iraq

By Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 17, 2004; Page B01

As a communications officer in the Marines, Maj. Kevin M. Shea frequently e-mailed his family with photos from Iraq showing the big, burly military man next to smiling local children.

"He was hoping [the military] could do a lot of good, rebuild the schools," said his mother, Eileen Shea of Northwest Washington.

William and Eileen Shea, parents of Marine Maj. Kevin M. Shea, remember their son as infinitely optimistic. He was killed Tuesday. (Gerald Martineau -- The Washington Post)

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But the decorated Marine instead found himself involved in frequent skirmishes with Iraqi insurgents. On Tuesday, he was killed by hostile fire, the third member of the armed forces from the District to die in Iraq and at least the 41st soldier from the District, Virginia or Maryland killed in the conflict.

On Sunday, Marine First Lt. Alexander E. Wetherbee, 27, of Fairfax died from injuries received in combat in Anbar province.

Shea "couldn't have been a more wonderful person," said Kara Anna, who was a neighbor of Shea's in recent years when he lived in the Anne Arundel County town of Arnold.

That was an opinion echoed by friends, relatives and colleagues yesterday. They described Shea, 38, as a caring, generous man who left a deep imprint on people during a military career that began at the Air Force Academy and continued through a teaching stint at the Naval Academy and two conflicts in the Middle East.

The Defense Department released a brief statement yesterday reporting the death of Shea, a communication information systems officer assigned to the 1st Marine Division, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. It provided no details about the circumstances, other than to say that he was killed by enemy fire in Anbar province, west of Baghdad, where part of the Sunni-dominated population has resisted the U.S. military presence.

Shea was born to D.C. natives but grew up elsewhere as his father's civil-service jobs took the family to Dallas and Seattle. After finishing high school in Seattle, Shea set his sights on the Air Force Academy -- but didn't get in.

Instead, he spent a year at the academy's preparatory school, boosting his grades, and eventually was accepted. The move was indicative of his tenacious personality, said his brother Tom of Germantown.

"He always excelled, but he excelled because he worked hard," he said. Kevin Shea went on to earn a master's degree in engineering.

While at the Air Force Academy, Shea discovered that his eyesight wasn't good enough for him to qualify as a jet pilot, so he cross-commissioned in the Marines, his brother said. Thus began a peripatetic military life that took him to Saudi Arabia for the Persian Gulf War, then on assignments in Florida and in California, where he met his wife, Ami. The couple, whose home is near Camp Pendleton, the Marine Corps base in California, have a 10-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son.

Shea was sent to Iraq in February. He set out hoping that the U.S. military could help the population, and that he could help young Marines.

"His goal was to bring them all back safe and sound," his mother said.

In one e-mail, Shea acknowledged that he didn't agree with some of the political decisions being made in Iraq. But, he told his parents in the message, "orders are orders."

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