WASHINGTON – At 23, Army Spc. Bernard L. Ceo had a focus and clarity to his life many of his elders would have envied.
He fulfilled his dreams of military service and community work by being a reservist in the Maryland National Guard and teaching special needs students in Baltimore.
He was ready to settle down with his live-in girlfriend, whose children he was raising as his own.
And those who worked with Ceo found him so thoughtful and introspective they half-expected his words to come from a much older soul, rather than someone with just over two decades under his belt.
So when they learned Sunday that he’d been killed, family members and friends saw his death not only as a loss of great potential, but of someone who was already teaching them a few lessons about living life.
Ceo, Spc. Samuel M. Boswell, 20, of Elkridge, and Sgt. Brian R. Conner, 36, of Baltimore, were killed Oct. 14 in a convoy accident while serving in Iraq — the first state guardsmen killed overseas since World War II.
Corye Ceo, 25, said the way his brother carried himself led people to believe that he was the senior of the two.
“We would laugh and joke about that,” he said.
Ceo was a natural teacher, said colleagues at the Kennedy Krieger High School Career and Technology Center, where he worked with students struggling with physical, behavioral and learning problems.
He was usually going one-on-one with the center’s most difficult and challenged children, which would have been exhausting for a veteran teacher, let alone a freshly recruited novice.
“He understood it was a very important task,” said Aaron Parsons, a principal at the center who worked with Ceo. “He was, at a young age, a professional dealing with specialized and intense needs. Exceptional needs.”
“He was good with kids,” his brother recalled. “He said it was something he could do for a long time.”
And sometimes at the center, as was the often the case in his own life, he was teaching students older than he was.
It was during this time that Ceo began pursuing a military career. He would speak with Parsons and program coordinator Vivian Price-Butler, both former Marines, about ways to serve and still work in his community.
“Part of the reason he chose the Guard, he wanted to have both,” said Price-Butler, who wrote a letter of recommendation for Ceo.
Once he joined the Guard in 2001 and returned from boot camp shortly thereafter, Price-Butler noticed an even more focused Ceo.
“He would be standing at attention so he could talk to me,” Price-Butler said. “I told him, ‘Relax, you don’t have to do that.'”
His newly reinforced sternness would prompt Parsons to try to break through that exterior.
“I would keep him in my office and crack jokes until he would smile,” he said.
Ceo’s colleagues at the 5th Regiment Armory honor guard, which performs military funerals, remember him as someone who took his duties seriously and helped teach all those around him to do the same.
“He not only affected people behind him, but also before him,” said Dominic Boyd, area manager for the Maryland Honor Guard.
Given the maturity and seriousness with which he lived, Ceo still made time for more youthful pursuits, notably his passion for rap music. His interest went beyond merely listening to artists like one of his favorites, the late Tupac Shakur.
While immersed in his music, the serious demeanor that Ceo presented in his professional life would melt away.
“He had a very, very gentle disposition, with a smile that just went all the way through you,” said his mother Rosemarie, 54.
Ceo wrote and composed his own songs, and even here his seriousness would shine through, his cousin said.
“He wanted to start some studio time when he came back from Iraq,” said Ronald Albert Ceo Jr., 17. “We were going to try to make a CD.”
Corye Ceo added that his brother had hoped to enter the music business once he retired from the military, and that he had written a couple of songs while in Iraq that he was planning to record.
It was one of many plans for Ceo’s anticipated Thanksgiving return from Iraq, where he had been serving since August. Another was a family reunion, which his mother ultimately had to cancel.
Part of that family was a longtime girlfriend, Dajae Overton, seven years his senior. She has two children: son Kierre, 5, and daughter Jaeda, 4, both of whom were infants when Ceo met them. He immediately took them in as his own.
“It came so easy to him,” Corye Ceo said. “He stepped up and did what the person supposed to be doing it should have.”
That Ceo was a young man in a mature relationship with an older woman did not faze anyone who knew him. But perhaps the best testament to his timeless personality comes from his mother. “Bernard and I were very close,” Rosemarie Ceo said. “Instead of mother and son, we talked almost like brother and sister.” – 30 – CNS-10-21-05