In the faces of children on Iraq’s street, Kevin Waruinge saw himself. The 22-year-old Marine hoped they would have the taste of freedom and opportunity he found in his new country, says family friend Elaine Pavan.
Born and raised in Kenya, Waruinge got his U.S. citizenship in the military. “He believed in this country and freedom and rights, and he believed he should be helping people in Iraq gain their freedom and rights,” she said. “I saw him being able to make a large contribution to our country, and he made the ultimate one.”
Waruinge, a lance corporal from Tampa, was among 14 Marines killed by a roadside bomb near the city of Haditha in western Iraq in 2005. He worked as a mechanic on amphibious assault vehicles. He was attached to the Marine Corps Reserve’s 4th Assault Amphibian Battalion, 4th Marine Division, in Gulfport, Miss. He had transferred from Tampa to the Gulfport unit after enrolling in school at Pensacola Christian College.
He wanted to study criminal justice and eventually work for the FBI, Pavan said.
Waruinge and his parents and brothers came to Tampa from Kenya in 1998, she said. Waruinge became best friends with Pavan’s son, Johnathan, at West Gate Christian School, where he graduated in 2001.
Waruinge volunteered for a second tour of duty in Iraq, which began in March, she said.
“We didn’t want him to,” Pavan said.
But stronger than his love for the Marines was his faith in God, she added.
“He’d say, “When God wants me, he’s going to find me, no matter where I am,’ ” she said.
Waruinge sent home pictures of himself posing with children in Iraq.
“He wanted to do what he could to help the kids,” she said.
He was upset that Americans heard mostly about insurgent bombings and not enough about the good he thought the military did.
“The people here don’t know how much of what we do means to the people over there,’ ” Pavan remembers him saying.
Quiet and proud, Waruinge flashed a contagious grin, she said. He loved playing soccer when he was in high school.
In Waruinge’s last e-mail to Pavan’s, he talked about coming home that October for good, about transferring to college closer to his parents and brothers, to his friends. But he never made it.