A series of slides projected on a chapel screen showed the joys in Sgt. Keith Coe’s life.
He was a young husband, happily embracing wife Katrina.
A proud father smiling heartily with a lap full of his children, Keith Jr., Killian and Klover.
An Army sergeant, standing tall in photos with his unit, the 1st Battalion, 37th Field Artillery Regiment; a soldier playing volleyball barefoot on a sand court; a funny guy, holding a rifle in an archer’s stance, its sling pulled back as a bow.
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Family, friends and soldiers paid tribute to Coe on Wednesday during a memorial ceremony at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
The 30-year-old artilleryman died April 27 in a bomb blast in Diyala province, north of Baghdad. He was the fifth member of the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, to die since the Strykers deployed to Iraq in August.
The young soldiers who served with him called him “Daddy” Coe, and credited him with saving their lives, according to interviews his family gave East Coast newspapers and tributes posted on a Facebook page in his memory.
He was born in Fulton, N.Y., and grew up in Winter Haven, Fla.
An explosion killed Coe as he stepped out of the troops’ vehicle while on a mission, one of his grandmothers, Dawn Jones, told The Ledger of Lakeland, Fla.
“All the others in the truck were just kids, just out of high school. It was his duty to get out of that truck first because he was the sergeant in charge,” Jones said. “Keith saved their lives.”
His comrades confirmed Coe’s protective nature during a recent ceremony in Iraq. Some of their comments were read aloud during the memorial at Lewis-McChord Wednesday.
“I know that Sgt. Coe is saying, ‘I’m glad it was me, and not one of my guys,’” Capt. Matt Kuhlman told soldiers during the battlefield service.
Kuhlman described Coe as a man filled with energy, personality and an “overabundance of confidence.”
Soldiers often heard the sergeant’s “unmistakable laugh,” Kuhlman said.
Also read aloud were the words of Coe’s friend and fellow sergeant, Jason Stewart, who is still in Iraq.
“He led by example, and loved leading soldiers,” Stewart said. “He made me want to be a better leader.” Coe joined the Army in 2007 to better himself, his family said in published reports. He extended his enlistment in January so he could study broadcast journalism in an Army public affairs course.
His daughter, Klover, was born while he was in Iraq. He saw her just once, on a brief trip home, The Ledger reported.
Family, whether by blood, marriage or military bonding, was at Coe’s core.
“I choose to remember him for his contagious laughter, his ability to not let the small stuff bother him and the way he loved his wife and family,” Stewart said.