You could say that Jerome Stewart fought and died for his country. A feisty little bantanweight, his lightning-quick fists and smooth, sweet style earned him the name "Candy" in the ring. An Olympic hopeful, he boxed out of Norfolk for the U.S. Navy.
His had been a Cinderella story -- the story of a Washington kid who grew up on welfare in the tough streets of the inner city, but found direction in the sweaty, free-for-all world of six-ounce leather gloves and canvas rings. He had circled the globe before he was 18 years old, and won a Golden Gloves championship.
Suddenly, at 22, it was over. On March 14, a plane carrying Stewart and 13 other top U.S. amateur boxers on a tour of Poland crashed into an old fortress near Warsaw Airport, killing all 87 persons aboard.
Yesterday, more than 100 friends and relatives of the Western High School graduate gathered under a clear, blue sky at Arlington National Cemetery to pay their final respects.
It was a quiet ceremony, the silence broken only by the heel-taps of the Navy honor guard and three volleys of rifle fire.
The family said they were bitter. Not so much about Stewart's death, but about the lack of recognition that an American hero had died. They said they had received no telegrams from President Carter nor D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, no condolences from any public officials.
"Jerome was the only one from Washington who died," said a family friend, John Givens, 33. "I think the mayor should have made it his business to come."
A spokeswoman for Mayor Barry said the mayor had not known about the funeral, but that "he really feels sorry about it."
Stewart's funeral services were held at Mt. Airy Baptist Church. Speaking over the muffled sobs of Stewart's four sisters, Lt. Cmdr. Stephen Delaplane eulogized the man who served under him in Norfolk for almost three years.
"He wasn't born into the luck of pre-ordained success," said Delaplane. "He had to work for what he had. He appreciated obedience and discipline and worked part-time and at his Navy job to always make sure his family was provided for."
"We will always remember Jerome in an odd way, the special way that he was a harmonious contrast of human complexities. He was compact in stature, yet tough, gentle and sensitive all at the same time. . . ."
After the funeral, well-wishers packed into Stewart's mother's small apartment on Morton Street NW off upper Georgia Avenue, eating fried chicken and potato salad and talking about their champ. Trophies and plaques commemorating past glories decorated every wall and cabinet.
One among them was quiet. The small, compact young man in the black, pin-striped suit sat alone on a dining room chair next to a picture of Jerome. Tyrone Stewart knew Jerome better than anyone. He was his identical twin.
Moving out to the stairwell with a reporter, Tyrone Stewart, an Army boxer who fights in the flyweight division, spoke quietly about his life with Jerome, recalling how they came to be boxers.
"We always were into all sorts of sports," he said. "One day we decided to try boxing up at the Uplift House [community center]" at 16th and Q streets NW.
"Boxing gave more recognition than the others, so we stuck it out . . . We went all over the country as we got good, to the regionals, nationals and Golden Gloves finals.
"Whenever we came back from a match, the younger kids would be all over us. They really looked up to us and we felt like we needed to give them some leadership that they didn't have. It made us feel good."
After graduating from Western High School, Tyrone said, the twins decided to enlist in the service. "They kind of recruited us, said that if we went in we could have good coaching and training, and that we could probably go farthest that way . . .
"Jerome picked the Navy, so I picked the Army. We agreed that we had to go our separate ways for a while and find our own identities . . . When we were younger, people could never tell us apart. We thought it would be good to go somewhere where we weren't 'the twins' all the time."
"I guess I kind of missed him. We wrote letters and saw each other at the inter-service championships. But now, well . . . I guess everybody will miss him, but as long as I'm here, he's here. People will look at me and see him too."