Teacher Reacts To Gulfport Seabee Killed In Iraq - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

12/22/04

Teacher Reacts To Gulfport Seabee Killed In Iraq

Pam Datlof spent Wednesday morning making calls no one ever wants to make. She's trying to inform parents and students of Three Rivers Elementary about the violent death of one of her student's dad - Gulfport Seabee Joel Baldwin.

"It was truly a tremendous shock. I'm sure it was to the family. It definitely is to our school family, because it's just a loving family and we just care about them so much."

Datlof remembers Baldwin as a strong, sensitive man and adoring father to his only child, nine-year old Cali.

"He helped her with her invention, which was the Roller Stroller, to help her handicapped cousin. She's always thinking of others. She learned that from her parents. He wrote me a very long letter telling me what a rewarding experience it was to have that opportunity to work with her."

Datlof recalls the last time she spoke to Baldwin, right before he shipped out to Iraq in October.

"It was in the hall. He said, 'Ms. Datlof, if you would, have the boys and girls to write. That would mean so much to me to stay in close contact, because I really support Cali and her education.'"

Datlof's gifted class adopted the chief petty officer. They even sent him a Christmas care package just days ago.

"We collected some things from the kids that they had brought in through the holidays that we knew that he would enjoy, such as his favorite snacks, Slim Jims, and little packs of tissues and lotion."

While dad was on deployment, Cali built a robot to fill a void in her life. Here's how she described it in an interview back in October.

Cali Baldwin said, "This is the 'I Miss You Robot' and I created it because my Dad left to Iraq to the war, and I miss him. It would have a brain chip, and it would teach me stuff and do my homework."

Now, Cali will have to grow up without her father. So friends and teachers will have to reinforce the lessons he taught her the last nine years.

The teachers at Three Rivers Elementary say they want to do something to honor Seabee Baldwin and the ultimate sacrifice that he made. They plan to plant a memorial garden in front of the school, with trees and flowers, to remember his legacy.

"It's to let the family know he'll always be remembered, and we're moving forward and watching it grow, and watching his daughter grow, because so much of him is in her," Datlof said.

Friends have set up a benefit fund to help the Baldwin family cover expenses and for Cali's future education. If you would like to donate, you can do so at any branch of Keesler Federal Credit Union. The fund is in the name of "Claudia and Cali Baldwin".

By: Trang Pham-Bui

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