Cathy DePew was riding in the passenger seat of her son's car last week.
When she spotted a "welcome home" sign for her son at Sylvania's Highland Elementary, two things happened: Her arm flew up to point at it, and she shouted, "Look, Kenton!"
Other 21-year-olds might simply have glanced at the sign. Kenton Dial slammed on his brakes, hoping to avoid God only knows what.
"Don't DO that, Mom!"
Home on leave after a seven-month stint in Iraq, loud noises and sudden gestures don't sit well with the Marine lance corporal.
Like at the mall the other night, in the parking lot. Someone's Harley revved to life, and Lenny DePew noticed his stepson flinch and duck.
Kenton E. Dial with Lenny and Cathy DePew.
"They told me that was normal," Kenton said, speaking of "readjustment" classes he had when he returned stateside a few weeks ago.
With time, his superiors told him, he'd stop flinching. Then again, they also told him to expect another tour of Iraq.
I first met Kenton last summer, when I chronicled his family in the weeks leading up to deployment. At the time, Kenton described his pre-enlistment existence as "just sitting around the house, playing video games, watching TV, sleeping [and not] going anywhere with my life."
His mother discovered a different person than the one she sent to war.
"He says garbage pick-up is a blessing, being able to flush a toilet is a huge thing. And he says three-quarters of the world don't have that. Their main concern is to get through the day without themselves or their children having to die. He says, 'When I hear people complain about their cell-phone service - we're very self-centered people.'●"
The military did for Kenton what it has done for many other aimless young people. Yesterday, in a Sylvania coffee house thousands of miles away from Fallujah, where he spent much of his time, Kenton described himself as "a quiet professional."
In seven months, his company lost five men; his battalion lost 13. The Marine next door, a close friend, was killed by a sniper: "The night before [he] died, he was playing chess."
Kenton said the improvised roadside bombs we hear so much about, while scary, weren't as psychologically exhausting as the idea of a single bullet.
"In a city," he explained, "it's 360 degrees of death just waiting to happen."
Cathy said Kenton told her about a Fallujah sniper suspected of killing scores of U.S. military, a sniper reported to be so skilled that "on a moonless, windy night, this guy can do it in a single head shot, so they're constantly wondering if they're in his view."
But Kenton doesn't tell his mother all his Iraq stories.
"There are certain things," he said, "that a civilian just wouldn't understand."