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Extended family shares grief over Marine
The last time the two brothers saw each other was at their father's funeral two years ago. One was entering Army boot camp. The other was between deployments with the Marine Corps in Iraq. This week, Army Spc. Stevenson Keith, 20, is helping make arrangements to bring back the body of his 22-year-old brother to Utah for burial.
Quinn Keith and six other Marines, including Lance Cpl. Michael Allred, 22, of Hyde Park in Cache County, were killed Monday when the explosion from a suicide bomber tore into their convoy near the Iraqi city of Fallujah.
An extended Navajo family stretching from southeastern Utah to Layton grieved Wednesday the loss of a son, brother, nephew and cousin and spoke of his life.
Growing up hadn't been easy for the Keiths, but they had happy memories of Blanding, where the brothers fished and hunted together. Quinn Keith was known for bringing down a deer with a single shot.
Then when the brothers were in high school, their parents divorced and state social workers threatened to place the four minor children in foster homes.
Their uncle, Clyde Keith, and his wife, Shannon, became legal guardians of the boys and their younger brothers Chad, now 19, and Lance, now 17. Shannon Keith said Wednesday that the couple's decision to rear the brothers, along with their own five children in their home in Page, Ariz., came from seeing how much their nephews loved each other.
"The brothers had a tight, close relationship," she said. "We ended up having our own baseball team, seven boys and two girls. They were all good kids."
Uncle Paul Keith, of Blanding, said the children in the Page household did not call one another cousins, they were all brothers and sisters.
Quinn Keith graduated from Page High School, where he wrestled, and then joined the Marines. When his younger brother graduated and decided to join the Army, the two never teased. Both became machine gunners.
The brothers went to Iraq at different times. Quinn Keith served during the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003. His second stint in the war zone was to have ended next month.
"We were in the same places but never there together," said Stevenson Keith. "We telephoned each other and wrote letters but we never talked about the military. We were always worried about our family, that they were all OK, and we talked about what we would do together when we got out of the military."
Keith wondered if his brother's death could make some kind of loophole for him to leave the service early, but he insists he will serve out his enlistment that ends next July.
"I need to finish this," he said. "And my brother would want me to. He was a strong person."
He took some comfort in learning that his brother and the six Marines who died with him were members of Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Division. The slain Marines were not only in the same unit, their ages were also similar, ranging from 19 to 22. And they came from small towns and cities such as Hyde Park, Concho, Calif., and Lawton, Okla.
It wasn't the similarities that drew Marines in the same unit together, said Stevenson Keith. It was their dependence on one another to survive situations that civilians cannot imagine.
"He was with his friends," he said. "We live with these same guys, we do everything together all the time. We watch out for each other. That's how it works."
Still, Paul Keith went to bed Monday night with a bad feeling after watching the news of the suicide bomb attack.
"It's going to be hard," he said. "We're a close-knit family."
Those families are grieving in Blanding and Layton, where the Keiths' mother, Leslie Kartchner, and another sister lives, and in Arizona, where the Navajo Nation honored their fallen Marine with flags flown at half-mast.
Quinn Keith belonged to the Towering House clan, born into the Bitterwater clan.
"It's not just about our family or the community of Blanding," said his cousin, Leland Begaye. "It's about the whole Navajo Nation. We lost a son today."
Navajos learned of his death, the third Navajo GI to die, by neighbors going door-to-door on the remote reservation.
"Knowing the outcome that he may not return, he would have made the same decision again," said Begaye. "To me, that shows a lot of love."
Keith's aunt Jennie Keith said, "We will have our moments of breaking down. But he would have said, 'Go on with your lives. Don't let me stop you.' "
Also on Wednesday, the family of Michael Allred received an outpouring of sympathy and support from Cache County residents and beyond.
"We're getting cards and letters from people we don't even know," said Michael's father, Brett Allred.
Brett and Zel Allred met with military officials Wednesday.
"It [the meeting] has been a matter of formality and protocol as we take care of all the affairs of our son," Brett Allred said. "We don't have all the details of the return of the remains of our son's body. There are still a lot of issues we're trying to get resolved."
He said the family wanted to express their condolences to the Keith family.
"We feel a very close relationship with them," Brett Allred said. "We would like to call them as soon as we can."
Correspondent Arrin Newton Brunson contributed to this story.