CORONADO (AP) — Thousands of people — including motorcycle-riding combat veterans, schoolchildren waving flags and mothers with strollers — lined the streets of this military town Friday as the funeral procession of a Navy SEAL killed in Iraq passed by on its way to a national cemetery.
The crowd stood in somber silence and some wiped away tears as the casket of Charles Keating IV was carried out of a Catholic church and driven through seven blocks lined with mourners. The body was transported across the bay to San Diego, where Keating will be buried at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery.
The SEALs had invited people to line the streets to honor Keating, just as residents here did in 2011 for two SEALs killed in Afghanistan.
Wearing a baseball cap with “Navy” emblazoned across it, Denise Gallagher, 56, cried as she saw the flag-draped coffin carried by sailors getting loaded into the hearse.
“Being a mother of two boys in the service, my heart goes out with full condolences to the family,” she said. “He was such a hero, and I think the welcome that everybody’s given him here in this town is just amazing. We’re just here to support and honor our hero.”
Family and friends attended a two-hour mass at the church in Coronado, where Keating’s SEAL Team 1 is based. Then they poured out of the church and looked across to the sea of people gathered in a park, many waving flags quietly.
People began gathering on the streets hours before the procession came by.
Keating died in a gunbattle with Islamic State fighters May 3, making him the third service member killed in Iraq since U.S. forces returned there in 2014. He was buried as a chief petty officer, a rank he received posthumously.
The 31-year-old Keating, who grew up in Phoenix, “was a dedicated and professional SEAL, a true warrior,” his Coronado-based SEAL Team 1 said in a statement.
“The legacy he leaves behind, for his fellow SEALs and for those who knew him, is unmistakable,” the group said. “He died bravely, doing what he loved, and what he believed in.”
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.
At a memorial ceremony attended by more than a thousand people in Coronado on Thursday, Keating was posthumously awarded a Silver Star, the nation’s third-highest combat medal, for his heroic actions during a March battle against Islamic State 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 was part of a quick-reaction force that moved in May 3 to rescue U.S. military advisers caught in a gunbattle with more than 100 Islamic State militants.
“He gave his life to protect his brothers,” Keating’s younger brother, Billy, also an enlisted SEAL, told mourners at Coronado’s Tidelands Park.
Shortly before his deployment, Charles Keating and Brooke Clark decided to quietly wed, and the couple was looking forward to holding a traditional wedding ceremony with family and friends in November, Teach said.
Keating was a former cross-country runner who served multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan and was known in Arizona as a grandson of a financier involved in the 1980s savings and loan scandal.
For the procession carrying Keating’s remains, thousands of students from the Coronado Unified School District stood and waved flags along nearly seven blocks leading to the Navy base, 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.”