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Marine Sgt. Kevin B. Balduf

Died May 12, 2011 Serving During Operation Enduring Freedom

27, of Nashville, Tenn., assigned to 8th Communications Battalion, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, N.C.; died May 12 in Helmand province, Afghanistan, while supporting combat operations.

2 Marines killed in Afghanistan

By Dan Lamothe

Marine Corps Times Staff writer

A Marine lieutenant colonel and sergeant have died in Afghanistan in what appears to be a shooting by an Afghan policeman.

Lt. Col. Benjamin Palmer, 43, and Sgt. Kevin Balduf, 27, died Thursday in Helmand province, Pentagon officials said Monday. No additional details about their deaths were initially available, but U.S. military officials in Kabul announced Friday that two service members were killed that day in southwestern Helmand after a member of the Afghan National Civil Order Police, or ANCOP, shot them in a police compound.

“While this is a serious incident, the actions of this individual do not reflect the overall actions of our Afghan partners,” said Marine Maj. Gen. James Laster, the International Security Assistance Force’s deputy chief of staff for joint operations. “We remain committed to our partners and to our mission here.”

Palmer was assigned to Marine Wing Headquarters Squadron 2, out of Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C. Balduf was assigned to 8th Communications Battalion, out of Camp Lejeune, N.C. Balduf’s remains arrived Saturday at Dover Air Force Base, Del., Air Force officials said.

Additional details about the Marines’ duties were not immediately available. Palmer served last year in Afghanistan as the commander of 2nd Low Altitude Defense Battalion, out of MCAS Cherry Point, N.C. He was replaced in a ceremony at Cherry Point in December after the unit’s deployment ended, according to a Marine news release. The battalion served downrange as a provisional infantry security force.

Thousands protect Marine's funeral from Westboro Baptist Church protest

By Erin Quinn, The Tennessean

Bikers revved their engines. Thousands of protesters waved American flags.

On one side of the street, the signs read: "Nashville: No place for hate" and "God loves Sgt. Kevin Balduf."

On the other side, they read: "Thank God for dead soldiers" and "God is your enemy."

But beyond all that, inside the protective walls of a quiet church, lay a young man in Marine dress blues.

On May 12, Nashville native and Marine Sgt. Kevin Balduf, 27, was killed in combat in Afghanistan. Much closer to his home, Christian fundamentalists in Topeka, Kansas, planned their trip to protest his funeral.

News of Westboro Baptist Church's plans lit up social media sites, resulting in a counter-protest of about 2,000 people Monday outside Woodmont Hills Family of God church on Franklin Pike. In less than 10 minutes, two hours before the funeral's start, the three Westboro protesters took their leave.

Earlier Monday, the three protested outside Gordon Jewish Community Center in Bellevue and the Islamic Center of Nashville on 12th Avenue South. During their short protest of the Islamic center, someone slashed the tires on their rented SUV. Metro Police took a report, but no one has been charged.

Since a March Supreme Court ruling in favor of Westboro Baptist, counter-protesters have stepped up their efforts to shout the group down at soldiers' funerals. America must allow "even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in his opinion for the court.

All but one justice sided with the church, which has stirred outrage with raucous demonstrations contending that God is punishing the military for the nation's tolerance of homosexuality. The church was started in 1955 and regularly protests the funerals of soldiers nationwide.

The Topeka church didn't respond to calls and emails requesting comment Monday, and the protesters left the funeral area without speaking to media.

Six hours before the afternoon funeral service, people filled the expansive church lawn and lined Franklin Pike to the Thompson Lane intersection.

The majority came by motorcycle. Others parked at the fairgrounds and nearby parking lots, shuttled to the church lawn by Rural/Metro Ambulances, a service donated by the private company. Others arrived on donated party buses.

Their mission was for Balduf's family and friends coming to mourn to see only American flags, only patriotism, only a showing of gratitude for Balduf's sacrifice.

"The counter-protest is a great example of freedom at work and America at its best," said Charles Haynes, a senior scholar at Nashville's First Amendment Center. "Instead of shutting them down or censoring them using the government, we have people who are willing to stand up and drown them out.

"It's a really great illustration of how freedom of expression can work in the United States."

Rachel Wilson, a 36-year-old professor of entrepreneurship at Middle Tennessee State University, brought her 6-year-old daughter, Emily, to the counter-protest as a lesson in freedom of speech and empathy for a grieving family.

"After seeing this, she told me, 'Mom, God doesn't hate anyone. He loves dead soldiers and alive soldiers. And he loves their families. He even loves the protesters,' " Rachel Wilson said.

During the protest at the Islamic center, about 20 Muslims in the mosque for noontime prayers decided to answer with silence.

"We prayed for them," said Imam Mohammed Ahmed, after the prayers were done. "We decided to ignore them."

At Westboro's next stop, the three stood exactly 500 feet from the church lawn. Tennessee law requires a 500-foot buffer zone for funeral protesters, and a Metro officer pointed out where that would be.

A new state law that takes effect July 1 increases the fine for crossing that line to $500. The sponsor of the bill, Sen. Eric Stewart, a Democrat from Franklin County, said he received no opposition to the bill.

"We've seen throughout the country, and now today in Tennessee, that Westboro will try to protest these funerals and disrespect our troops," Stewart said. "Quite frankly, what Westboro stands for does not represent my faith, and I don't think it represents the faith of any of the people in my district."

The three sign-wielding protesters stood on one side of Franklin Pike, blocked by three mounted police officers.

On the other side of the street, throngs of patriotic counterprotesters chanted "USA! USA!" while others sang "America, the Beautiful." They, too, were blocked by mounted police.

Adam Gordon, a 27-year-old retired Army soldier who was injured in combat in Iraq, came from Murfreesboro to show his support for Balduf and his family.

"It's just the right thing to do," he said. "It's a military funeral, so we should all be here showing our thanks, anyway."

Before the funeral, Balduf's grandfather Charlie Newsom shuffled from counterprotester to counterprotester, thanking them for their support.

Inside, Balduf got the peace and respect that the counterprotesters wished for him. A standing-room-only crowd of mourners laughed and cried over stories of their beloved Kevin, a twin who died as a husband and a father.

They remembered his humility and his work ethic and his immense pride in his country.

His former David Lipscomb High School football coach, Scott Tillman, knew exactly how Kevin would react to the day's massive showing.

He'd display his signature goofy grin and, with his deep voice, he'd say:

"What's all the fuss about? I was just doing my job."

Bob Smietana and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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