Mom's day OK; Seabee son is back in States

TOLONO - Mary Lou Harvey won't get to see her son on Mother's Day. She's not complaining. At least he is done with his harrowing duty.
Jim Shields, a 1997 graduate of Unity High School, has been a Navy Seabee diver for six years. Harvey thought he was in Kuwait when the bombs began dropping, doing his usual undersea construction work.
But he was in Iraq, diving into murky canal waters with the grisly and dangerous job of finding U.S. soldiers who had drowned there.
The only good thing that could be said about diving in those conditions is it got him out of the worst sandstorm of Operation Enduring Freedom.
"He was under water through most of that," his mother said. The News-Gazette could not reach Shields for this story.
The Tolono native is normally stationed at Port Hueneme, Calif., and is trained to do construction and salvage diving, not recovery of bodies.
"He was there because in the first Gulf War, Saddam blew up the bridges," Harvey said.
"The day the war started, he was sent into Iraq. The whole time, I thought he was in Kuwait."
On March 24, Marine Sgt. Bradley Korthaus and Cpl. Evan James disappeared on a reconnaissance mission, while trying to swim across a 225-foot canal to check out some Iraqi civilians they feared were Iraqi military in disguise.
The two men were fully suited up for war, wearing boots, camouflage clothing, vests, ammunition and carrying their M-16 rifles - 30 pounds in all.
They were missing for two days.
Harvey said her son and a Marine major, also an Illinoisan, took turns looking for the men.
Shields dove twice in the cold water, only coming up when his 65 minutes of oxygen were depleted. He wasn't the diver who found the bodies.
Shields' second underwater mission, his mother relates, was when a tank ran into a river. He helped connect cables from the tank to the trucks that pulled it out.
From there, his unit moved north toward Baghdad.
"He was 50 kilometers from Baghdad when he was told to go home," Harvey said.
Shields is now in California, after flying from Kuwait to Cyprus to Italy to Portugal, spending five hours in Baltimore, then moving on to St. Louis, and eventually to Los Angeles in mid-April.
His mother said it has taken took him a while to adjust to the time changes.
But free-flowing water is a nice compensation.
"They didn't get to shower the entire time," his mother says.
About 20 guys who served with Shields are still in Iraq and Kuwait.
Harvey laughs when she remembers the packages she sent to him.
"He hardly received any mail. I sent him three boxes; one on March 24 and two on March 30. They arrived in California April 29," she said.
Shields doesn't eat candy, but his mother sent some anyway, figuring his buddies might like it.
"He told his roommate, Chris, in Kuwait, 'If I get any boxes, you can open them,'" Harvey said. "Instead, he gave the candy to his friends' children in California."
Shields is scheduled to return to central Illinois on July 7.
"I was disappointed he wasn't coming home for Mother's Day. But I talk to him. It's nice he has a cellphone," Harvey said.
A Champaign mother, Elizabeth Kennie, also wishes her son could be here for Mother's Day.
Sgt. Kenardo Kennie has been in the Army for more than a decade, but this is his first assignment overseas.
"I just want to tell him I love him, and I pray for all the troops," his mother says. "He called me early (last) week; it's hard to reach him."
Kennie is married and has a son, Darius. He went to Parkland College and is a member of Alpha and Omega Church of Jesus Christ in Champaign.

You can reach Paul Wood at (217) 351-5203 or via e-mail at pwood@news-gazette.com.

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