PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – One year ago to the day, Krista Keating-Joseph was on stage at Ocean Palms Elementary School sharing how proud she was of her Navy SEAL son serving his country in Iraq.
This time, though, she talked about the day he died a hero.
"He was killed running to the front lines to save his teammates that were being surrounded by about 200 ISIS fighters,” she said.
Eleven-year-old Ali Joseph, a fifth-grader at the school, stood next to her parents on stage and listened proudly as her mom spoke of her big brother’s legacy.
Principal Jessica Richardson announced that the field being renovated next to the school will be named The Hero Field and the first brick paver will be dedicated in memory of Ali’s brother, Charles Keating IV.
“I’m absolutely honored that that they’re doing this for the thought of Charlie and all the other heroes beyond and into the future,” his mother said.
Ali and her brother were very close, and he wrote a special letter for her in case he was killed. She keeps it by her bed.
Keating-Joseph ran the school’s running club last year and remembers her son’s love for running, which inspired him to become a Navy SEAL. She hopes The Hero Field will inspire other children to achieve their dreams.
"You know, when you find your talent, you don’t know where it’s going to lead,” she told News4Jax. “It led my son to be a Navy Seal and a hero and save a whole lot of people’s lives.”
Dozens of other active duty and retired servicemen and women were honored at the ceremony as well.
Several of the students’ parents are deployed right now. Some of the children took the stage to talk about how proud they are of their parents and grandparents and how they are looking forward to seeing them again.
Three fifth-graders received awards from the American Legion Auxiliary Unit 233 for an essay contest, including the state winner for Florida, Ava Pollack.
The choir also sang patriotic songs before each veteran in attendance introduced themselves and talked about their service.
The military guests ranged in age from 23 to 90.
Many of them expressed their heartfelt appreciation to the children and their school for acknowledging the sacrifice the military makes every day to protect the country and its values.
“It’s invigorating for me to see that a school like this understood and appreciated and valued the service of veterans and took the time to put together a class act like this,” said veteran Al Pantano, who served from 1987 to 2013.
The PGA Tour expressed its appreciation for the veterans by providing refreshments after the performance. The Tour’s art director also provided a rendering of The Hero Field displayed at the ceremony and will be advising the school on how to keep the grass in good condition.
First Lieutenant Dennis Oliverio, a Marine and father of an Ocean Palms student, provided the Marine Corps' birthday cake.
The Hero Field will include a soccer field, a walking and jogging path, a kickball field, an outdoor classroom and a weather station.