By Kris Grant
Gold Star mom Krista Keating-Joseph has always been a runner. She won an Arizona state medal for the mile in high school and a scholarship for cross country to the University of Arizona in Tucson. And she began sharing her love of running with her three young children, Charlie, Billy and Adele.
In the wake of the loss of her son, Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Charles H. Keating IV, who died in combat on May 3, 2016 in Tall Usquf, Iraq, she has penned two children’s books in his memory, that recount his early years. Keating lived in Coronado during his years as a Navy SEAL.
“Big-Hearted Charlie Runs the Mile” was published earlier this year and is available on Amazon for $12.66. It was just named the Best Children’s Picture Book by the Florida Writers Association (Keating-Joseph resides in Florida). Her second book, “Big-Hearted Charlie Never Gives Up,” released this November, is available on Amazon for $13.95. Both books feature illustrations by Keating-Joseph’s mother, Phyllis Holmes.
The first book is for children, ages 3 to 6, and addresses young Charlie’s tenacity for running. The second book is for first to third graders and recounts Charlie’s fun adventures growing up, ending at high school.
Krista and Charles Keating III divorced when Charlie was 3 years old, and running became a strong bond between Charlie and his mother, who lived in Paradise Valley, Ariz.
“The kids were all involved with soccer but I really saw how much Charlie loved to run and I saw he was talented,” she said. “We were going to a million soccer matches. Charlie showed his brother and sister how much fun running was, and soon I had 70 kids enrolled in the Arizona Track Club.”
As one of the youngest runners in the club, Charlie was smaller, and at first came in last or close to last in races. “I told him, ‘Charlie, you can quit whenever you want. You don’t have to run.’ But he loved running and as he grew, he began getting faster. Then he got a medal. He found his niche.”
By the time Charlie was 10, he was in nationals with USA Track & Field. And as a high school freshman, he was running against seniors. “He was very tough,” said Keating-Joseph. “He just kept working harder. He ran morning and night and made the medal stand at the Arizona meet for high school.”
Charlie went to the University of Indiana in Bloomington, his father’s alma mater, where he connected with Coach Robert Chapman. After completing two years of college and breaking the four-minute mile, he told his mother, “I’m going to BUD/S because I’m in the best shape of my life.” He graduated from BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL), the first phase of SEAL training in 2008.
“He also wanted to be a SEAL because it was the hardest thing you could do,” said Keating-Joseph, noting that Charlie had a SEAL poster in his bedroom at age 8. “Charlie gave 150 percent all the time — in roller hockey; football, mountain biking, and running.”
He gave 150 percent as a SEAL as well, she said.
She heard the news on TV about a firefight at Tall Usquf, Iraq and one SEAL casualty. “And I knew then, I just knew, it was Charlie,” she said. “It had to be God or faith, but it wasn’t that hard to figure out. He had the wherewithal. He came to visit before he deployed and I beseeched him, ‘Please don’t be a hero.’”
She heard about the attack of 200 ISIS members against the Kurdish peshmergas, whom SEAL Team 1 was embedded with. “Our guys were supposed to ‘advise-and-assist’ them; they weren’t supposed to fight, but Charlie picked up a weapon and took on this Trojan horse and saved a town.”
Keating-Joseph had visited Coronado when Charlie was young and they competed in track meets in San Diego.
But she was overwhelmed with the outpouring of support from the citizens on the days leading up to, and the day of, Charlie’s funeral service at Sacred Heart Catholic Church. “The people at the Marriott were so kind, and there were random acts of kindness everywhere, like when my husband had forgotten to bring his suit. We went to Brady’s Men’s Store and when we went to pay for it, somebody else had paid for it and to this day we don’t know who that was.”
As the funeral procession drove slowly from the church to North Island Naval Air Station, it was greeted with silent mourners, both adults and children, lining the curbs, with large American flags held by members of Coronado Rotary. And as the procession approached Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, 50 local families representing the Kurdish community held Iraqi flags in Charlie’s honor.
This summer, Keating was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross, one of the Navy’s highest honors, for helping to defeat a Trojan attack by taking out a tank full of terrorists a month before he was killed in Tall Usquf. The family returned to Fort Rosecrans this August to upgrade his gravestone with his Navy Cross honor.
Keating-Joseph often returns to visit friends and family in Coronado and one of her favorite activities is running on the beach.
“I’m running from the Navy base to the dog park and having Charlie chatting in my ear. And then I turn and look at this beautiful scene of the crescent beach and the Hotel Del looking back at me; it’s like a reward,” Keating-Joseph said. “And a peace just overcomes my heart.”