KAHULUI - Even in the chaos of an Afghan battle last year, Senior Chief Petty Officer Kraig M. Vickers flashed his trademark smile and gave a thumbs up to his companions, buddy Kerry Mitchell recalled Saturday.
Speaking at a celebration of life for his fallen comrade, Mitchell told a crowd of nearly 1,000 people how Vickers had once risked his life in a firefight to reach a badly injured friend, crawling along the top of a stable roof. Despite getting shot in his throwing arm, Vickers still managed to chuck a grenade with his other hand and hang over the edge of the entrance to fire into the building at three enemy soldiers, Mitchell said.
"I just wish I knew him longer," said Mitchell, who said they did hundreds of missions together, often dismantling unstable bombs. "I miss him."
Nani Vickers places a red rose on her husband’s casket during Saturday’s funeral at Valley Isle Memorial Park in Haiku.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
Mourners filled most of the Maui Arts & Cultural Center Castle Theater to say goodbye to Vickers, a senior chief explosive ordnance disposal technician attached to a Navy SEAL unit. They called him "Maui's hero."
Vickers' flag-draped casket stood at center stage. In front stood a turned-down rifle, topped by his helmet, while the stage was filled with flowers and photos of Vickers with his family and on his deployments.
Vickers, 36, of Virginia Beach, Va., and formerly of Kokomo, was among 30 service members who died early last month when their helicopter was shot down in Wardak province, Afghanistan.
Vickers was a 1992 Maui High School graduate and a football and wrestling standout.
"He was Maui built and proud of it," Mitchell said.
Robert Vickers Sr. remembered the day his son signed up for the Navy in 1996. He laughed about how he had been rewarded with two coffee mugs - one for each of the tours he signed up for. But the elder Vickers said the military provided Kraig with a vehicle to achieve his goals and travel the world.
He may have enjoyed practical jokes, but he was a professional, Mitchell said.
On one occasion, when their team discovered a cache of weapons, Mitchell said Vickers told him to get out of the room, while he stayed behind to hunt for booby traps himself, saying it would be foolish for both of them to die.
Vickers was different in a quirky way that made him stand out like a comedian, said his older brother, Robert Vickers Jr.
Friends and family members said he was complex. He was an athlete, a jokester, cool under the most intense stress, dedicated to work and intensely loyal, his parents, Mary and Robert Sr., remembered, along with others in his tight circle of friends.
Above all, though, he loved God, his country and his family, they said. Vickers' father called his son's wife, Nani Vickers, Kraig's savior for bringing him back to the church.
In recorded remarks played alongside a montage of photos, Nani Vickers said: "You gave me the best eight years of my life."
"You were and always will be my soul mate," she said. "My true-life fairy tale."
She said Vickers was just three months away from completing his tour of duty, allowing the family to move back to Hawaii.
Robert Vickers Jr. said Nani Vickers, who is pregnant with the couple's third child, is "standing strong" because "there is God in her life." The couple were also the guardians of a teenage girl.
Donations to support the family can be made at www.kraigvickers.com.
After the celebration of life, Vickers was buried at Valley Isle Memorial Park in a service that included a flyover by two Navy jets, a rendition of taps and a 21-gun salute. Nani Vickers was presented with a folded flag after placing a single rose on his coffin.
"We love him, and everybody is missing him right now," Robert Vickers Jr. said.
* Chris Hamilton can be reached at email@example.com. Maui News photographer Matt Thayer contributed to this report.