Thursday, November 03, 2005

Army Private First Class memorialized at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy

Have you heard about the Army private -- Kevin Wessel of Newport, Rhode Island -- who was recently memorialized at the Coast Guard Academy with a shadowbox on display at Yeaton Hall. He joins Nathan Bruckenthal, Jack Rittichier, and Douglas Munro. Perhaps you're wondering why an Army private would be joining this group of deceased Coasties.

((Don't be content with only a teaser of this post;
read more of this musing.))

Wessel was a Coast Guard Auxiliarist who died in Iraq.
A ceremony was held earlier this month, along with a formal ball for the current graduating class of officer candidates, to dedicate Wessel's shadowbox. In attendance was LeOra Johnson, former Newport auxiliary flotilla commander.

"We felt truly honored to be able to represent the auxiliary at this memorable occasion," Johnson said following the event.

Wessel, 20, grew up in Hawaii where he was involved in the Sea Cadets while attending high school. He moved to Oregon in 2002, and joined the Coast Guard Auxiliary shortly after his arrival to work through the qualifications necessary for active duty.

"He was the most intelligent person I ever worked with," Johnson said. "He was just a dedicated person. You won't find anyone with more dedication to protecting our country."

Wessel's official Coast Guard Auxiliary membership came through on Dec. 4, 2003. When he learned there was a two-year wait for Coast Guard active duty - his dream was to be a surfman - Wessel joined the U.S. Army instead, in January 2004.

Wessel died April 19, 2005 when a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (IED) detonated near his dismounted patrol. Also killed in the explosion was Spc. Jacob M. Pfister, 27, of Buffalo, New York. Both had been assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division from Fort Stewart, Ga.

Posthumously, Wessel was promoted to Specialist First Class and presented the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart and the Good Conduct Medal.

LeOra Johnson said that during last month's ball for the officer candidates, a single table was set up by the podium with an empty chair, a single candle, a single red rose, and an overturned glass representing the shipmate who was no longer present. The shadowbox for Wessel, which contains a photo of the young man in his Coast Guard uniform - was also on display at the podium.

"He was all spit and polish in that uniform, like he came from a department store. His demeanor was pure professional," Johnson had said shortly after Wessel's death.

Wessel's shadowbox will go next to those for a signalman in World War II who was killed while operating a landing craft; a Coast Guard helicopter pilot who was shot down in Vietnam; and a Coast Guard damage control specialist who was killed in Iraq in 2004.

All are on display in Yeaton Hall, on the U.S. Coast Guard Academy campus in New Haven.
Another young and promising American killed in the sands of Iraq. Doesn't seem that a shadowbox is sufficient to honor that sort of sacrifice.

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