Scott R. McHugh

Mortar attack kills sailors from suburban Boca, Martin

By Pamela Perez, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 5, 2004

A Navy petty officer from suburban Boca Raton was among five Florida sailors killed in Iraq when they came under hostile fire this week, the Department of Defense said Tuesday.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Scott R. McHugh, 33, was killed Sunday when a mortar struck the campsite of the Jacksonville-based Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 14 in the Anbar province of Iraq, west of Baghdad.

Also killed was Petty Officer 2nd Class Robert Boyd Jenkins, 35, of Martin County. McHugh and Jenkins are the first servicemen from Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast to die in Iraq.

Family and friends in McHugh's neighborhood mourned their loss Tuesday night and recalled his life of public service.

"He felt this is what he wanted to do for his country," neighbor Nancy Savlowitz said. "It's a very, very big tragedy."

Navy officers traveled to his mother's home Monday in the Boca West development to inform Joyce McHugh about the death of her only son.

McHugh's father lives in Jacksonville.

"He was a good son. He seemed to be very devoted to her," Savlowitz said. "My heart as a mother is with Joyce."

The distraught mother declined to comment from her home but shared a photo of her son in his prom tuxedo.

McHugh was born in Massachusetts and graduated from Spanish River High School.

He attended Palm Beach Community College before enlisting in 1993, according to family friends. McHugh was not married and had no children.

"He was a good kid," said a family friend named Sam. "He never gave anybody any problems."

A Navy ombudsman who visited Joyce McHugh's home Tuesday evening declined to comment. Scott McHugh's body is being kept in Maryland until funeral arrangements are made.

Also killed in the attack were three other Floridians: Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael C. Anderson, 36, of Daytona Beach; Petty Officer 2nd Class Trace W. Dossett, 37, of Orlando; and Petty Officer 3rd Class Ronald A. Ginther, 37, of Auburndale.

The past few days have taken a heavy toll on the Naval Mobile Construction Unit, which has suffered seven casualties since Friday.

About 400 sailors from the 700-member unit were sent to Iraq recently to fix electrical, sewer and water systems and do humanitarian work.

In Martin County, Jenkins' widow secluded herself Tuesday with loved ones and a Navy officer in the couple's home.

Former co-workers and friends recalled a guy who loved the Pittsburgh Steelers, kayaking and above all, his wife, "Liz," whom he met seven years ago while working as a bouncer at T.A. Verns Bar & Grill in Stuart.

"He was a wonderful husband to Liz," said Christa Duerr of Palm Beach Gardens, a longtime friend of the couple. "She couldn't have asked for a better husband. He was calling her every two or three days after he got to Iraq."

Martin County Administrator Russ Blackburn learned of Jenkins' death early Tuesday and announced it at the county commission's weekly meeting.

Jenkins worked almost 2 1/2 years for the county and supplemented his full-time job cleaning storm-water pipes by being on call for the mosquito control division.

"It brings the war in Iraq home to Martin County," Blackburn said. "Here's a person that a year ago was doing his normal job. He was called to duty. He responded to that call and unfortunately paid the ultimate price."

On Tuesday, patrons of J.L. Trent's Seafood Grill and Murray's Tavern near Jacksonville Naval Air Station, where Jenkins' and McHugh's unit was based, mourned the losses and debated the war in Iraq, which has taken the lives of more than 750 U.S. military personnel.

"I don't think we should be there to begin with," said Bob Thomas, 45, an Army veteran.

"It's different than Vietnam, but they both have the same bad smell."

Published in The Palm Beach Post on May 4, 2004