He was always uncomfortable with all the fuss. So after awhile, Leslie Jones allowed her son to have it his way.
    Instead of signs and flags and raucous applause at the Salt Lake City International Airport security gate when he came home, Jones would greet her boy, Lance Cpl. Quinn Keith, at the passenger pickup curb.
    "We'd just circle around and around the terminal and then we'd see him there," Jones said. "He'd just be there, carrying a small backpack. That's how he wanted it."
    And that's how she expected it. But staring over the airport tarmac Tuesday evening, tears falling from beneath her brown sunglasses, Jones prepared herself for a very different homecoming.
    "I just want to be here to welcome him home," she said. "It's unfortunate it has to be this way. This isn't the way I'd planned. But I still want to greet him."
    Baggage handlers darted between broad-winged airliners and under loading ramps. In the bustle, the orange-vested workers might have missed the red van's arrival.
    But its passengers -- seven Marines in dress blues -- are unusual in this part of the airport. And within moments, their mission became clear: A black hearse rolled onto the ramp behind the van.
    The carts slowed, then stopped. The handlers, gathering under a loading ramp, stood still.
    "Who is it?" one handler yelled to a co-worker over the roar of jet engines.
    "Another Marine," the second handler answered.
    Both men set their eyes to the ground.
    Overhead, passengers awaiting a flight to San Diego gathered at a window. A silver-haired man placed his hand over his heart and closed his eyes.
    "We see a lot of caskets, you know, doing this job you see a lot of that," said ramp agent Alan Lamm. "But this is the first time I've seen anything like this."
    It's not a first for Salt Lake City police officer Patrick Jones. Not a second either.
    In fact, Jones believes he has been on duty each time a fallen member of the armed services has passed through Salt Lake International since U.S. forces entered Iraq in March 2003.
    And Keith's return marked the second time in a week Jones has been called on to escort a flag-draped coffin through the airport.
    "I'm usually the tough one, the one who nothing fazes," Jones said. "But that last one really got to me."
    The last one -- Lance Cpl. Michael Allred -- was buried Monday in Hyde Park. Allred was killed in the same suicide bomb attack that claimed Keith's life.
    Tuesday, the uniformed Marines gathered near the front cargo hold of the 737 docked at Gate C-11.
    An empty white cardboard box -- the size and shape of a coffin -- followed some postal boxes down the ramp. Moments later, Keith's silver, flag-draped casket became visible.
    The sight of the coffin sent Leslie Jones into the arms of her fiancˇ, James LaSelute. To their right, Keith's 11-year-old cousin, Tre Deal, sobbed.
    As the casket came to rest at the bottom of the ramp, the boy -- who had been instructed by his mother to say goodbye to his cousin on behalf of his entire family -- approached.
    He reached up and touched the casket and bowed his head. Other family members did the same.
    The tarmac remained still. The San Diego-bound passengers, now assuming their seats in a nearby 737, looked out the port-side windows. Several wiped tears from their eyes. One woman folded her hands before her face in prayer.
    Four people were standing with their hands over their hearts as the hearse exited the tarmac gate. Two waved flags.
    "We just wanted to do for Lance Cpl. Keith what others have done for our family," said Brett Allred, father of the Marine whose body made the same trip through the airport just days earlier.
    "He's a hero," Allred said of Keith. "And we wanted to welcome him home as a hero. To welcome him home with honor."
    Shivering in front of the airport police station, the hearse carrying her son's body parked nearby, Leslie Jones was still fantasizing about the homecoming she had hoped for.
    "This is so hard for me and for my family," she said. "This is not the way it should have happened. But I will be strong for him and carry on."
    After all, the grieving mother reasoned, her son was always uncomfortable with all the fuss.