Krista Keating-Joseph never imagined she’d be writing a memoir about her son Charlie. But after Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Charles H. Keating IV, died on May 3, 2016 in Tall Usquf, Iraq, of combat related causes, this Gold Star Mother’s life wasn’t anything like she’d imagined.
Charlie had spent many summers in Coronado since he was young and had befriended locals over the years. Later, during his BUD/S training, Krista also came to Coronado and often watched the young men train on the beach. Charlie was then assigned to Coronado’s SEAL Team One. When he died, the community he loved honored him as the hero he was with a memorial service and procession through crowd-filled streets.
Over the past four years, Krista has made certain that her son not be forgotten. She’s written four children’s books about Charlie. Her mother (Charlie’s grandmother), Phyllis Holmes, is an Arizona based award winning artist who illustrated the stories. The transition from children’s books to the current book Charlie, Don’t be a Hero was unexpected for Krista. Her neighbor, retired Colonel Will G. Merril Jr., has penned books titled Ordinary People: Extraordinary Heroes. He approached Krista about writing a chapter about Charlie. Krista was apprehensive at first, but Will asked for just an hour of her time a week to hear her stories about Charlie. The process lasted three years, Krista describing it as “therapeutic.”
By the end, it was clear that a chapter would not be enough to tell Charlie’s story. So the novel, Charlie, Don’t Be a Hero was born. What was initially planned to be a more historical recount, morphed into “the story of me and my son,” Krista shared. She added, “If I can help others… let them know they can find their way through and smile again.” When asked if she had ever considered becoming an author before Charlie passed, Krista laughed, “No, I don’t like writing.” She shared that the process was rewarding for her though. “I don’t know if I was motivated by my heart or God or Charlie.” Krista does not have plans for what comes next for her. “I’m taking a deep breath. I feel satisfied, I did what I needed to do.” However, she teases that there is always a possibility of another children’s book. Maybe.
Reading Charlie, Don’t Be a Hero was a privilege. Learning who Charlie was from childhood throughout his life causes you to consider what a hero is. Are they born that way? Do they become that way? Reading Charlie’s story, it seems like both. His instincts as a child and thoughtfulness make it appear that he was always destined for heroism. But saying such almost discredits all of the effort and fight Charlie put into everything he did to become one of the elite. Throughout the book, Krista adds full color photos of Charlie and his family. Bringing Charlie off paper, reminding the reader that Charlie is just as real as a neighbor. He had a childhood, he had struggles, and he had a lot of love.
Krista admits to struggles while writing the book. “I worried my other kids would not feel included. Ali (Charlie’s sister) wanted her letter in there, and she’s proud she’s in there. I didn’t want to not do Charlie the right way. I didn’t want to upset Brooke (Charlie’s wife) or his friends. But I wanted his story to be around, even when I’m gone.”
During Charlie’s SEAL training, Krista rented a condo in Coronado and saw some of the training. “Watching those boys… it’s so inspiring. They give 150% and are trying as hard as they can.” Later, Krista discusses the memorial service and procession through town, “there were so many people that came out, and the fire trucks… I am still speechless. Every mom that loses a child should experience a service like that.”
Charlie, Don’t Be a Hero is available for purchase at Coronado’s Bay Books. Learn more about Krista and Charlie here.