Cpl. Kevin J. Dempsey

Courant Staff Writer

Marine Cpl. Kevin J. Dempsey of Monroe died Nov. 13, 2004 in an explosion in Al Anbar Province in Iraq. Dempsey, a graduate of New Canaan High School, was in the 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion, attached to the II Marine Expeditionary Force. He was 23.

To the Marine Corps, he was Cpl. Kevin J. Dempsey of Monroe, Conn. To a lot of people in the state that now mourns his death, he was Jack.

Jack the wrestler. Jack the football player. Jack the New Canaan High School graduate. Jack, who enlisted with the Marines not long after 9/11.

Kevin "Jack" Dempsey, 23, died Saturday in an explosion in Al Anbar Province in Iraq - the latest in a list of troops killed this month in that province, where the U.S. has been waging an all-out assault on the remaining insurgents in Fallujah. The Department of Defense says at least 38 U.S. troops have died and almost 300 have been wounded in the occupation of the city west of Baghdad.

Dempsey was in the 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion, attached to the II Marine Expeditionary Force, based at Camp Lejeune, N.C.

The day after Dempsey died, Army Gen. John Abizaid, commander of U.S. forces in the war, spoke with troops in Fallujah, saying that the city was under control. He said the last few pockets of insurgents were being pursued, and they would be knocked out to the last man.

That brand of tough dialogue matches the tough, dedicated Marine that friends describe Dempsey as being.

"He just loved the Marines to death," said Wayne Hildebrand, a friend who wrestled on the same team as Dempsey, the New Canaan Rams.

Both Dempsey and Hildebrand joined the service after high school; Hildebrand joined the Army. "He loved what he was doing, and I guess that's what matters."

The two talked on the phone before Dempsey went to Iraq. "He was kind of pumped about it," Hildebrand said. "I wished him good luck and to come back safely. Unfortunately, it didn't all work out that way."

Over the weekend, Marines took news of his death to his mother, Barbara Dempsey, who lives in Monroe. She is making arrangements for her son's remains, which may arrive today at an Air Force base in Dover, Md., said 1st Sgt. William McCoy at the Naval and Marine Corps Reserve Center in New Haven.

"Right now, she's still in shock," McCoy said of Dempsey's mother. "We're trying to make it as easy on her as possible."

Barbara Dempsey said Monday, "He was the love of our life. He had so much to offer the world. We're so very proud of him."

A Marine will escort the body from Maryland to Connecticut, McCoy said, marking the return home after what amounted to less than three months in the war for Dempsey. McCoy said Dempsey had just finished a short duty in Haiti and was sent to Iraq in September.

Before Dempsey left, he hung out with Connecticut friends, including Jennifer Carafa. She knew he was going to war, but she wasn't concerned.

"The way he talked to me, I wasn't worried at all," she said. She described him as a big-brother type, an older protector. Monday night, she was on her way to Monroe, to gather with Dempsey's family and friends.

Their mourning was reflected across the state Monday.

"We did a moment of silence for him," said Tony Pavia, principal of New Canaan High School. He thinks the school will likely start a scholarship or award in his name. "We want to make sure that we remember him."

Gov. M. Jodi Rell called for flags to fly at half-staff until he is buried. "All of Connecticut joins me in honoring his service to our nation," she said in a statement.

And U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays, the congressman from Dempsey's district, visited Barbara Dempsey, his staff said. Shays said in a statement: "We grieve with Cpl. Dempsey's family."

Paul Gallo, who coached Dempsey in wrestling until his 2000 graduation, remembered him as a serious kid, the kind an adult could sit down and talk to. Dempsey's father had died young. Dempsey seemed to have been left with a sharp focus and a hardened will.

With only a couple of years of wrestling, he wasn't the most technically adept, Gallo said. But the 189-pound wrestler was tough. "He just went out there and tried to destroy his opponent," he said. "You were scared walking out against him."

"He was a fighter his whole life," Gallo said. "He wasn't afraid of anything."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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