SAN DIEGO — Navy SEALs are inviting people to line the streets in the military town of Coronado, California, on Friday to honor the special warfare operator killed in Iraq.
Charles Keating IV, who grew up in Phoenix, is the third service member to die in Iraq since U.S. forces returned there in 2014. His remains will be transported across the Coronado Bridge to San Diego to be buried at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery.
His Coronado-based SEAL Team 1 said in a statement that Keating, who was killed in a gunbattle with Islamic State fighters on May 3, "was an excellent special warfare operator, who worked tirelessly as both a breacher and sniper, and even served as a leading petty officer for the training of all West Coast SEAL snipers.
"He was a dedicated and professional SEAL, a true warrior," the group said. "To say that we will miss Charlie is of course an understatement. But the legacy he leaves behind, for his fellow SEALs and for those who knew him, is unmistakable. He died bravely, doing what he loved, and what he believed in. He set an example for the rest of us to follow."
School children, retired Navy officers and throngs of others are expected to turn out for the public tribute — just as in 2011, when thousands waved flags to honor two SEALs killed in a downed helicopter in Afghanistan as their remains were transported across the bay to Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery. The picturesque cemetery overlooking the bay to one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other is officially full but exceptions are made for those killed in action.
Keating will be buried as a chief petty officer, a rank given to him posthumously.
At a memorial ceremony attended by more than a thousand people in Coronado on Thursday, the 31-year-old SEAL was posthumously awarded a Silver Star, the nation's third-highest combat medal, for his heroic actions during a battle in March against ISIS fighters in Iraq, said Lt. Beth Teach, a spokeswoman for the SEALs.
He also received a Purple Heart and Combat Action Ribbon for what he did the day he was killed.
"He gave his life to protect his brothers," Keating's younger brother, Billy, also an enlisted SEAL, told mourners at Coronado's Tidelands Park.
Keating and Brooke Clark decided to quietly wed shortly before his deployment and the couple was looking forward to holding a traditional wedding ceremony with family and friends in November, Teach said.
The former cross-country runner, who served multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, was part of a quick reaction force that moved in to rescue U.S. military advisers caught in a gunbattle involving more than 100 ISIS fighters. The small team of American advisers had gone to Teleskof, about 14 miles north of Mosul, to meet with Kurdish peshmerga forces. The attack triggered a massive coalition air response that destroyed equipment, buildings and killed up to 60 militants.
Thousands of students of the Coronado Unified School District plan to wave flags along nearly seven blocks leading to the Navy base as the procession carrying Keating's remains passes, said Maria Johnson, executive assistant of the superintendent.
"A lot of parents here have military ties so this is very important for us to support the military," she said. "We've got a lot of parents on deployment. It's dear to our hearts."