Marine Sgt. Kevin Balduf died May 12th, 2011 in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, while supporting combat operations. Kevin was a radio operator assigned to the 8th Communications Battalion, II Marine Expeditionary Force, out of Camp Lejeune, N.C. and was serving his second tour in Afghanistan.
Recently, I spent time with Kevin’s wife Amy and his two daughters Stephanie and Eden. It’s easy to find information about what type of Marine he was, but I wanted to know more about what kind of man Kevin was beyond his service to our country. The four of us spent two hours sitting together talking about the father and husband that was lost on May 12th, 2011. Stephanie and Eden lit up when recalling stories about time spent with their father. They smiled and laughed, correcting each other on details of each story, but agreeing that their father loved them and that they cherished their memories of him. When Kevin’s body was recovered in Afghanistan, photos of Stephanie and Eden were found tucked inside his side arm pocket, always close to him.
On October 14th, 2017 I had the honor and privilege of carrying Kevin’s stone as a volunteer hiker for The Summit Project, a living memorial to capture the stories of our fallen Maine heroes. We honor them by sharing their personalities and building a community to help support their families. We carry their stone for a hike, and we carry their stories for a lifetime. The stones are selected by family members of the fallen hero, picked from places meaningful to them and their lost loved one.
Kevin’s wife, Amy, recalled the story of how they found his stone during a family trip to the top of Mount Washington:
Stephanie and Eden yelled to me that they had found an awesome rock. As they brought it closer…right there in front of my eyes was a “wink from heaven” [in the form of a heart-shaped rock]. [This] is something I’ll always hold dear to my heart because of the first trip Kevin and I took to his grandparents camp on Tennessee Lake. On a walk near the camp, Kevin found a heart-shaped rock and placed it in my hands. He told me that I would forever have his heart.
As I listened and learned more about Kevin, I was grateful to be able to receive his story and felt a sudden realization of why this project is so important. The families of our fallen heroes need to know that we are grateful for their sacrifice and that their stories continue to thrive.
Just doing his job
Kevin earned the Bronze Star in his first deployment in Afghanistan for putting himself in harm’s way to protect his fellow Marines. Kevin left the safety of cover and climbed to the top of a ridge under enemy fire to call in coordinates for a desperately needed airstrike. He is credited with saving the lives of many people that day. Amy told me how Kevin was proud of service, but never expected praise for the things he did:
Unless you saw him in uniform or saw his truck he wouldn’t talk about it, his response was always ‘I was just doing my job’ and that’s where he would leave it.
These words from Kevin made me question my own motives surrounding the choices that I make. Am I satisfied with just doing the work, or am I seeking recognition and praise for my actions? For the past several weeks, I’ve often thought about how Kevin would conduct himself if placed in my position. Although we have never met, I sometimes recognize that I’m being careful not to disappoint Kevin with the choices I make.
Ernest Hemingway once said: “There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.” Kevin Balduf was a man who believed in doing the right thing because it was the right thing to do, not because of any other motive or expected outcome. Humility means putting the needs of another person before yourself, and not drawing attention to yourself. Kevin truly embodied these principles in everything that he did.
I’m honored to help keep Kevin’s story alive. If something about him or his story touched you, please share that gift with someone else. Maine heroes are not forgotten.
Learn more about The Summit Project and how you can get involved by visiting their website: www.thesummitproject.org