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Simi Valley Sailor’s Heroism Eases Loss for Family, Friends

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Navy firefighter Robert Shane Kilgore died doing what he loved most--fighting a fire.

Kilgore, 22, of Simi Valley, was a member of an elite team of firefighters that was first on the scene when a fire broke out in a supply room aboard the U.S. aircraft carrier Midway on June 20.

The ship had been performing flight exercises about 125 miles off the coast of Yokosuka, Japan, when the fire erupted.

Kilgore and 15 other crewmen were seriously injured when two explosions ripped through the supply compartment, seven floors below the flight deck. Two other sailors died in the accident.

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After being treated at a hospital in Japan, Kilgore and five other injured men were flown to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio.

On Wednesday, Kilgore, who had suffered burns over 85% of his body, died after his heart and lungs stopped functioning, said a hospital official.

“It’s been an awful tragedy,” Jacquelyn Marzola, Kilgore’s mother, said in an interview from San Antonio on Friday. “What a waste of a brilliant life.”

Marzola said she and her husband, Ron, along with the sailor’s father, Hank Kilgore, were among several family members who were at Kilgore’s side when he died late Wednesday night.

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“We were all gathered around him,” Marzola said. “We were holding onto him and talking to him all the way.”

Two of Kilgore’s injured shipmates told the family that he pulled them to safety after the first explosion on the Midway, then lunged back into the burning compartment to continue battling the blaze, Marzola said.

“He gave everything he had for all the men,” Marzola said. “He gave his life.”

Kilgore’s grandmother, Roberta Rose, of Simi Valley said she is not surprised by his bravery.

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“That sounds like Shane,” Rose said. “He’s a gung-ho kid. He believes in keeping healthy, and he didn’t smoke or use drugs. Everybody was crazy about him. This is typical of him to go in and save someone else’s life.”

Marzola said after her son graduated from Simi Valley High School in 1986 he studied at Moorpark College before joining the Navy. She said Kilgore’s ambition was to be a Ventura County firefighter and that he felt his experience in the Navy would help him achieve that goal.

Rose said her grandson originally wanted to be an architect, but changed his mind after becoming fascinated with firefighting in college when he read textbooks about how to fireproof buildings.

“He knew exactly what he wanted to be,” Marzola said. “And he always excelled and pushed himself to be the best.”

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Marzola said the last time she talked with her son was the day before Easter. She said he called and told her that there was a chance he might be transferred to another ship stationed in Long Beach.

Marzola said her son called once more, on Mother’s Day. She said she was at work at the time, but that her husband had talked to Kilgore.

“He said to say, ‘Hi mom, even though I’m halfway around the world, it’s still Mother’s Day, and I just wanted to say I love you,’ ” Marzola said, her voice shaking with emotion.

Marzola said during the days before his death that her son’s spirits had been lifted by the outpouring of letters and cards from family and friends in Simi Valley. She said her son regained consciousness, but could only communicate by nodding his head and moving his feet, the only part of his body that wasn’t burned.

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She said three of Kilgore’s friends from Simi Valley had driven all the way to San Antonio to be with him.

“He was a very special person,” Marzola said of her son. “He was loved by a lot of people.”

Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley), who has been in contact with the family since the day of the accident, said he read a statement on the floor of the House of Representatives on Thursday honoring Kilgore for his bravery.

Gallegly and his aides had also been instrumental in helping family members secure free transportation to San Antonio so that they could be with Kilgore.

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“It’s been a real tragic event,” Gallegly said. “I’ve tried to do what little I could to make their lives as gentle as possible at this time.”

Simi Valley Mayor Greg Stratton also paid tribute to Kilgore during a meeting of the City Council Thursday night.

“Wholesome, energetic and outstanding are some of the words that have been used to describe Robert Shane Kilgore,” Stratton said. “Now, ‘hero’ has been added to the list of adjectives that describe this spirited and courageous young man.”

Marzola said a mass will be held for Kilgore on Tuesday at 10 a.m. at St. Peter Claver Church in Simi Valley. Funeral services will follow at Mission San Fernando Cemetery in San Fernando.

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