On Tuesday, September 7th, 1993, my brother Kevin, the youngest of four kids, died at age 29 of a massive heart attack while serving our country as a member of the US Air Force Pararescue Special Ops Team based in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. He was born with a congenital heart defect called cardiomyopathy.
The day he died, he was playing basketball on the base with his buddies (all of whom were EMT’s). As he went up for a shot, he grabbed his chest and fell to the ground. Ten guys jumped on him and started pumping on his chest. It was too late. He was already gone.
As I headed to my parents home on the morning of September 8th, I had just separated from my first husband. I was dropping off china and several other items to store with them until I got settled into my new apartment.
My mother greeted me at the sliding glass door. I entered the house and saw my entire family sitting quietly in the living room. It was 10 a.m. on a Wednesday. I looked around at the group and asked: “What is everyone doing here?” I was met with a blank stare until my sister spoke up: “Kevin is dead.”
As I fell to my knees and started to scream, I saw my father break down and start to cry. My beautiful, handsome, athletic, kind, funny, brother was gone. At 29 years of age.
It took a week to get Kevin’s body back from Saudi Arabia. An Air Force C-130 out of Nellis flew a unit of his Pararescue buddies to Carswell in Fort Worth for the funeral. From there, they were taken by bus 10 miles west to the church in Weatherford.
The funeral was a complete blur. I was running late for the ceremony. As I sped into the parking lot and got out of my car, I was met by my sister’s then boyfriend who was smoking a cigarette. I felt numb as he escorted me into the hallway, where I saw my family being lined up by a church official to prepare us for the tortured walk down the aisle.
As the music began, we slowly filed into the large church that was packed with mourners. I felt like things were in slow motion. I looked over to the left and saw a sea of burgundy berets. Kevin’s unit had come to say goodbye. They were fifty of the most beautiful young men I had ever seen. All in uniform, many were in tears.
As my parents, aunt, sister and brother and I were seated in the front row, I glanced at the flag-draped coffin that was sitting just to the left of me. I could not fathom that this was it. Kevin was gone.
What I loved most about my brother was that he was always kind to the “underdog”. Things came easy to Kevin. He was handsome, athletic, funny, smart and popular in school. His best friend in high school happened to have a cleft palate. Kevin could make fun of David, but God help anyone else who did. His friends came in all colors, religions and backgrounds.
It has been 22 years now. While time does help ease the pain, one is never the same after a loss.
The motto of the United States Air Force Pararescue is: “So That Others May Live. “ https://www.pararescue.com
Thanks, Kevin Patrick McKenna, for serving our country and being such a great brother. You are missed to this day.
We will see you on the other side.