Two Weeks Apart, Two Military Men Die While Swimming in Virginia Beach

VIRGINIA BEACH -- They both served in the military and were on the cusp of milestones.

But then, within two weeks of each other, Richard William Watts and Luis Martin Mijares Acero died while swimming at the Oceanfront. Watts, 58, was pulled from the water near 34th street on Sunday -- a week after lifeguards stopped patrolling resort beaches, police said.

Acera, 26, was a Navy petty officer 3rd class who was a day away from his first deployment, his father said. He drowned Sept. 22 while hanging out with friends at 89th Street, and his body was recovered four days later, according to authorities.

Watts was two days away from his 59th birthday. He lived in Northern Virginia and had previously served in the Army, said his brother, James Watts.

His death stunned their family.

"It's hard to talk about it right now," his brother said.

Richard Watts is survived by his wife, whom he met while stationed in Germany, and his son. Richard Watts was born in Japan, but moved to San Diego when he was very young, his brother said. There, his five other siblings were born, and all grew up at the beach.

James Watts said they all looked up to his brother, the oldest of all the kids -- especially after their father left at a young age.

"He was a decent, good human being who happened to be my brother," he said. "The world is that much sadder these days."

James Watts described his brother as an adventurous, smart person who had a great sense of humor. Richard Watts was a guitar aficionado, who played in several rock bands throughout his life. His most memorable performance, his brother recalled, came on a Fourth of July years ago, when he strummed a rendition of Jimi Hendrix's version of the "Star Spangled Banner" in a local park.

Richard Watts was a "lost rock n' roller" -- his look featuring torn jeans, cut up shirts and a long mullet -- before he joined the military, James Watts said, explaining that his brother was immensely proud of his years of service.

"We loved him, and we'll miss him dearly. There are some people that pass anonymously in life ... but Ricky is not one of them," James Watts said. "His tribute and his monument are his life lived. You can never knock that down."

On Sept. 26, Acero's body was found at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek Fort Story, police said Tuesday.

Acero grew up in the Bronx, New York, his father, Faustino Acero said Tuesday. There, he graduated from DeWitt Clinton High School and later studied to be a dental hygienist.

Three years ago, he enlisted in the Navy, just like his older brother. After being stationed in Illinois, Florida and North Carolina, Luis Acero moved to Virginia Beach in 2016, according to Navy records.

He went missing Sept. 22 at the Oceanfront, the day before he was scheduled to deploy for the first time after three years of training, his father said. He was going to head to France, and then Oslo, Norway.

"God has a plan for everybody. It's not so hard for me, but my wife is still grieving at this time," said Faustino Acero, 63. "It's hard for her to accept."

Staff writer Saleen Martin contributed to this report.

This article is written by Peter Coutu from The Virginian-Pilot and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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