Folks around St. Anne, Ill., got a charge last summer when hometown son Ryan Beaupre flew overhead in a helicopter.
Beaupre, a onetime accountant who joined the U.S. Marine Corps in order to fly, had made his ambition come true. In the process, he had made his parents, Mark and Nicky Beaupre, as proud as any could be.
On Friday, the couple -- and many in the town of 1,212 -- were grieving the loss of Ryan Beaupre, who died a day earlier when the CH-46E Sea Knight helicopter in which he was flying crashed in the Kuwaiti desert just south of the Iraqi border. Beaupre, a 30-year-old captain attached to the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, was one of four American and eight British marines killed in the accident, the first of the war's casualties among the U.S.-led coalition forces.
The dead included a second pilot, Capt. Jay Thomas Aubin, 36, of Skowhegan, Maine; Cpl. Brian Matthew Kennedy, 25, of Houston, a mechanic; and Staff Sgt. Kendall Damon Waters-Bey, 29, of Baltimore. Beaupre, Kennedy and Waters-Bey were based at Camp Pendleton and Aubin at the Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma, Ariz.
Two more U.S. Marines were reported killed Friday during fighting in southern Iraq, but they had not been identified.
The Sea Knight, a squat craft with tandem rotors, is a long-serving military dray whose oldest models date to the 1960s. The advanced age of the CH-46 fleet has been a cause for concern to Marine officials, who have sought to replace the helicopter with the V-22 Osprey.
The helicopter that crashed in Kuwait was acquired in 1966 and had been flown for 7,800 hours, according to the Naval Air Systems Command. The craft had been rebuilt in the late 1980s and was most recently serviced at the Marine Corps Air Station in Cherry Point, N.C.
Word of the crash draped sorrow over St. Anne, a town 60 miles south of Chicago where everyone seemed to know the close-knit Beaupre family. Mark and Nicky Beaupre had grown up there and were known as community-minded people.
And so residents came out Friday to try to cushion the pain of the news, delivered to the family by Marine officers who showed up at 3:15 a.m. By 8 a.m., a special memorial Mass was being held a couple of blocks away at St. Anne Catholic Church, and residents made their way to the Beaupre home to mourn the death of the former honor student and graduate of Illinois Wesleyan University.
"We're a small community.... What happens to one family happens to all of us," a family friend, Rev. Ron Murphy of the First Baptist Church of St. Anne, told Associated Press. "The whole community knew Ryan, one of our finest."
Beaupre, a former track star at Bishop McNamara High School, graduated from college in 1995 with an accounting degree and took a job with State Farm Insurance. But he had always wanted to fly, according to his sister, Alyse Beaupre.
Jason Worby, a high school buddy who roomed with Beaupre in college, said his friend long wanted to be a pilot, but it was only after college that Beaupre talked about joining the military, where he thought he could accomplish more. "He had a clear goal in mind," Worby said.
Beaupre got his wings in 1999. Unmarried, he was stationed at Camp Pendleton, living in a small apartment with a bluff-top view of the Pacific, before being deployed to Kuwait.
The fatalities in Kuwait also hit hard in Maine, which claimed ties to two of the Marines.
Aubin was a 1984 graduate of Skowhegan Area High School, not far from the central Maine mill town of Winslow, where his mother, Nancy Chamberlain, now lives. A onetime high school wrestler, Aubin was an instructor pilot and had been deployed overseas several times, according to a fellow Sea Knight pilot who knew him.
"He was a tremendous guy, an experienced pilot, one of the better ones we've got," said the pilot, who declined to be identified. It remained unclear who was at the controls at the time of the crash.
Aubin, who was married with two children, ages 7 and 10, was scheduled to be promoted to the rank of major on returning home, family members told the Central Maine Morning Sentinel.
Kennedy's mother and stepfather live in Port Clyde, on Maine's coast, although he grew up in Glenview, Ill., a Chicago suburb. Kennedy had been in the Marines for three years and worked as a hydraulics mechanic, according to his stepfather, John Derbyshire.
Kennedy left for the Persian Gulf in early February, Derbyshire said.
U.S. Sen. Olympia J. Snowe, a Maine Republican, lauded the four Marines as courageous and selfless. "Their bravery in action will forever be their legacy," she said. "They are truly our heroes. My thoughts and prayers are with their families.... I hope they can take some comfort in the cherished memories they will always have of their sons."
Waters-Bey, married and the father of a 10-year-old son, was a helicopter maintenance specialist. He was attached to the Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron-268, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing.
Waters-Bey grew up and attended high school in Baltimore. His father, Michael Waters-Bey, expressed bitterness at his son's death. He said he wanted to tell President Bush that "this was not your son or daughter. That chair he sat in at Thanksgiving will be empty forever."
Holding a snapshot that showed the Marine carrying his own son, the elder Waters-Bey told a Baltimore television station: "I want President Bush to get a good look at this, [a] really good look here. This is the only son I had, only son." The father then walked away in tears.
Times staff writers Alan C. Miller, H.G. Reza and Tom Gorman and researchers John Beckham and Lianne Hart contributed to this report.