Posted on Fri, Feb. 09, 2007

Friend escorts `Doc' Conte home
Calling hours continue for medic killed in Iraq
By Jim Carney
Beacon Journal staff writer

It was a somber journey, but a high honor, that brought the 23-year-old to Ohio on the last leg of a trip from Iraq.

Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Devin Kelly, a native of New Mexico, had been asked by the Marines, as well as the family of Navy Hospitalman Matthew Conte, to escort his body home this week.

And so, on Thursday, a few hours before the first session of calling hours at Dunn-Quigley Ciriello & Carr in Stow, the young man sat in a lounge area of the funeral home, speaking quietly of his closest friend -- a fellow corpsman from Portage County who was killed in Iraq on Feb. 1.

The casket of the 22-year-old Field High School graduate arrived at Akron-Canton Airport on Wednesday from Dover, Del., the final leg of the trip home.

But Kelly couldn't find the words to describe the journey.

He just said: ``I'll never forget it.''

Bond formed

He met Conte two years ago at their base at Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, and at first, he found Conte annoying.

Conte was constantly singing Gwen Stefani's Hollaback Girl, Kelly recalled.

``He was singing that whenever it came on. I was going, `Gosh, oh, shut up,' '' Kelly said.

The incessant singing got under Kelly's skin. ``He was out of control,'' Kelly said.

Yet slowly the two young men, whose mission in the Navy was to administer immediate medical care to Marines on the battlefield, got to know each other.

``I really started to like him and we started to hang out and drink beers together,'' Kelly said.

Both men served with the Marines first in Afghanistan.

``He was one of a kind,'' Kelly said. ``You would have to see the way he acted. A free spirit.... He was there to have a good time. If you were having a bad day, you laughed, you smiled, whenever you were around him. Just an amazing person.''

Then in September, they headed for Iraq.

On Dec. 14, Kelly was hit in the face by shrapnel. Seven bones in his face were broken and he was sent home to Hawaii to be with his wife, Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Amanda Kelly.

But he and Conte kept in touch -- he e-mailed Conte and spoke with him by phone.

Conte's legacy

Kelly said that among the corpsmen in his unit in Iraq, there was a feeling that sooner or later, one of them would be killed.

The unit had lost ``a lot of Marines,'' he said.

There was the feeling ``that something is going to happen to a corpsman because the corpsmen are always out,'' he said.

Yet Conte thrived on being with his Marines, Kelly said.

``He was one of those people who would run out in gunfire and do the things that needed to be done,'' Kelly said. ``That is how good a person he was and how loyal he was.''

Kelly said the death of Conte hit hard his fellow corpsmen in Iraq hard.

Conte, the son of Lureen and Gale Conte of Jacksonville, Fla., had received his Fleet Marine Force pin after passing a battery of Marine tests, said Kelly, who also has the designation.

But perhaps the greatest honor for Conte was the name he was called by his Marines, Kelly said.

He was called ``Doc.''

And as he explained the designation, tears spilled down his cheek.

Kelly, son of a Navy corpsman, said not all corpsmen attain such status.

``If you are called Doc, it means something,'' Kelly said. ``It means a lot to the corpsmen.''

If you are called Doc, said Kelly -- who has achieved the same status -- ``you feel it in your heart.''

To Kelly and the Marines he and Conte served with in Iraq and Afghanistan, Conte ``will always be Doc,'' Kelly said. ``Doc Conte.''

Calling hours will be held today from 4 to 8 p.m. at the funeral home at 3333 Kent Road in Stow.

The procession will form at the funeral home at 9:30 a.m. Saturday.

The procession will head south on Darrow Road, east on Howe Road, south on Sherman Road, then east on Tallmadge Road to the Grace Church of Rootstown (formerly the New Milford Baptist Church) at 4804 Tallmadge Road in Rootstown Township. Services will be held at 11 a.m.

Jim Carney can be reached at 330-996-3576 or