On Friday, the flag-covered transfer case containing the mortal remains of Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Charles Keating IV was borne solemnly from a C-17 transport onto the mist shrouded tarmac at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.
The 31-year-old SEAL from Arizona had given his life in faraway Iraq while racing to the rescue of his fellow SEALs. Video of the battle shows him and his quick reaction team dashing straight into direst danger.
“F—-ing run!” an American accented voice can be heard calling out as gunfire raged up ahead.
As always, it was run toward, never away. He brought with him the name he shared with his father, Charles Keating III and with his grandfather, Charles Keating, Jr.
The grandfather had made the name infamous as the financier at the center of a big savings and loan scandal in the 1980s that was said to have cost investors more then $200 million and the taxpayer $3.4 billion.
Five U.S. senators were embroiled in the mess. They included two all-American heroes, ex-POW John McCain and astronaut John Glenn, but they were collectively known as the Keating Five.
A week before Christmas in 1991, the grandfather was indicted for fraud and conspiracy and racketeering. The father was also charged. The youngest of the Charles Keatings was then just six years old.
In early 1993, the grandfather and father were convicted and sentenced to prison. The son was in his second year of being teased at elementary school because of his name. He is said to have remained unwaveringly devoted to his father and his grandfather.
The 7-year-old son proved himself to be steadfast in a more physical sense after he asked to join his mother on a 5K race. The mother, Krista Joseph, was a state champion miler, but she did not expect the boy to stick it out for more than a third of the run, no matter what athleticism he may have inherited. He made it all the way.
“He never wanted to walk,” she was quoted saying. “He loved it.”
But when he put a poster up on his wall at the age of 8, it was not of a track and field star or some other sports hero. It was of a Navy SEAL. And this was in a time when most little boys had never heard of these special operators.
“This was what he wanted to do,” the mother later said.
In 1996, when the son was 11, the convictions of the two elder Charles Keatings were vacated due to jury irregularities. The charges against the father were dropped altogether. The grandfather pled guilty to two felonies and was sentenced to the four-and-a-half years he had already served.
The youngest Charles Keating continued on into high school and excelled at track and field just as his mother had. He became the top runner at Arcadia High School team as well as the team’s top cheerleader and most rousing spirit, no sooner crossing the finish line than rooting for the others.
The coach would remember that the team had practice on September 11, 2001. The coach noted that the news of the attacks roused bigger concerns in the boys than races and personal bests.
“It kind of unfolded as time went by, but they really wanted to do something, they wanted to help out,” the coach Robert Reniewicki, later told a reporter.
The youngest Charles Keating had all the more reason to follow the dream made manifest by that poster he had put up on his wall. He was still just a sophomore in high school and kept running, running, running, some 70 miles a week, seeking ever better times.
In May of 2004, his senior year, he competed in a regional championship. The event was all the more special because for the first time his grandfather was in the stands to see him compete. The grandson remained steadfast in his devotion to the man whose release had made the name Charles Keating no less synonymous with fraud and greed.
“I’m really close to him,” the youngest Charles Keating was quoted saying. “What happened in the past, I really don’t care.”
The grandson added, “He’s not seen me run yet, so this will be great.”
The youngest Charles Keating went on to the University of Indiana on a running scholarship. He still felt the tug of that childhood ambition, and after two years he left school to enlist in the Navy. He became a SEAL the following year, in 2008.
He was deployed twice to Iraq and once to Afghanistan. He was awarded a Bronze star for bravery while assisting fellow SEALs who had been ambushed. And the son who shared a name with a father and a grandfather continued to be uniquely himself. He was great fun and impossibly funny and to see his irrepressible grin was to find yourself grinning back.
“He was our golden boy, and he had a million-dollar smile,” his mother later told a reporter.
His repeated safe returns from harrowing dangers made him seem all the more special and blessed.
“He had the best luck in the world, and he always made it through everything,” his mother said.
His luck outdid itself when he became engaged to Brooke Clark, a judge’s concierge at wine competitions. One photo shows her with a cup, he with a can of beer, the two of them beaming at each other, a golden couple. Another photo shows them snuggled in a beachside hammock as the sun sets with no hint of anything but more sunsets to come. They set a wedding date for November and the invitations went out. His former high school track coach got one and put it up on his refrigerator.
But the youngest Charles Keating was still a SEAL and in February he was deployed to Iraq yet again. He spoke to his mother via FaceTime on Monday. His fiancé had plans to buy her wedding dress during the week.
At 7:50 a.m. on Tuesday, Iraq time, a “troops in contact” alert was received by the quick reaction force that included Charles Keating IV. He and his team sped toward the village of Tel Askuf, where fellow SEALSs and Kurdish peshmerga fighters they had been advising had come under attack. Some 125 ISIS fighters had suddenly appeared in a convoy of 20 vehicles that included armored Humvees, truck bombs, a bulldozer and a portable bridge that enabled them to storm across a defensive trench.
The vehicles carrying Keating’s team came under RPG and small arms fire outside the village. Video suggests that they continued on foot. Keating may well have been the one who yelled the word that had figured large in his life.
Run they did across a field toward the village and intense gunfire.
“There were bullets everywhere,” a Defense department spokesman later said.
At 10:19 a.m., a helicopter was videoed swooping down for a landing in the direction where the SEALs had been running. The helicopter lifted off moments later with Keating. He had been hit in the side, an area not covered by his bullet resistant vest.
The helicopter soon after landed at a U.S. military medical facility in Erbil, but Keating. credited with having saved numerous SEALs and Kurdish fighters, was himself beyond saving.
On Friday, his remains were returned to the country he died serving. His family was waiting on the wet tarmac at Dover to meet him. His survivors include his fiancé and a brother who reportedly is also a SEAL.
He leaves us having made the name Charles Keating synonymous with courage and selflessness and nobility and unshakable loyalty.