Home after #039;Enduring Freedom#039;

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 17, 2002

If Bo McKathan's story had been filmed in Hollywood during World War II, he would not have survived the first reel. The young, blonde, country boys with the cherubic faces

– usually played by Alan Ladd - were almost always the first victims of enemy fire.

Luckily for Bo - and his parents, Debbie and Keith McKathan of Andalusia - his story took place in real life, not on the silver screen. Unlike those heroes of WWII movies, Lance Corporal Bowen Keith McKathan, member of the 26th Expeditionary Unit 5, Battalion Landing Team 3/6, India Company, returned from active combat in Afghanistan safe and sound, and a citizen again.

"I always wanted to go into the military," said Bo, a graduate of Marion Military Institute.

He joined the Marine Corps on June 28, 1998. After boot camp he left for a six-month deployment in the Mediterranean.

"We did a lot of training with the military of other countries," he said. "Egypt, Israel, Jordan."

There was no "action" on that first visit to the Mideast, just "friendly matters."

"We did go off the coast of Kosovo, but that was just to make our presence known," said Bo.

When he returned to the United States, Bo began training for his second deployment, which he knew would also be in the Mideast.

"We did mountain survival training and desert training in California," he said. "The Marines have certain standards you have to meet, tests you have to pass, before you can 'go on float' (on deployment)."

Those tests included battle skills, raids, embassy reinforcement and combat training. He had no idea how soon and how severely his newly won skills would be put to the true test.

"Our next deployment was for September 22," he said. "I was in Camp Lejuene on September 11, already packing."

He said the terrorist attack made him feel sick and angry for the victims, but he wasn't worried about going to the Mideast. He was "excited and nervous" about being able to defend his country.

For a while, it looked as though Bo's company would be sent to the tragic scene in New York City to help recover bodies.

"They decided we were needed more overseas," said Bo.

The company went to Egypt first for additional desert training, then to the coast of Pakistan where they, like many others, waited to see what would happen next.

"On December 11, we flew into Pasni, Pakistan," said Bo. "We tookC-130s to Camp Rhino where we got all our gear ready."

For a Marine in the Infantry, "all our gear" includes a pack weighing about 220 pounds - most of it ammunition.

After a five-day wait, Bo joined his fellow Marines in the seizure of the Kandahar Airport in Afghanistan. The 3 a.m. attack in the darkness was, for him, the most frightening part of his stay in the Mideast, but not because of the gunfire and mortars.

"Land mines," he said. "You can't see them in the dark. There were supposed to be 12 million of them out there. I saw one Marine have his leg blown off and two others caught shrapnel."

It would not be the last grisly sight he witnessed. As part of the helio unit, he was involved in rescue and recovery missions when US aircraft went down, like the C-130 that crashed in Pakistan. He helped recover the bodies of the US fighters, as well as those from the helicopter crash on Dec. 27.

The India Company returned to the Kandahar airport and dug in - literally. A series of "fight holes" - or foxholes - was dug around the perimeter of the seized airport and the Marines patrolled and watched diligently for the next 50 days. After that, they returned to the ship off the Pakistan coast for another month, then began the long, zigzag journey home.

Bo kept going. Having served his four-years stint, he left the Marines with many commendations, and more to come. Although he enjoyed traveling around the world - literally - meeting new people and making new friends, for now, he wants to put thoughts of Afghanistan behind him and relax. His service in the military will help pay for his college, but for now he is content to sit by the road with his dad and sell watermelons.

"I'm just going to enjoy life," he said. "And grow my hair long."