Six weeks to the day after she married a soldier stationed in Iraq, Tracy Keil got a call that she relayed to her new in-laws in northwest Ohio as gently as possible.
"Matt's OK," Tracy told her mother-in-law Darlene Keil. "He's been shot. But he's OK."
"I hung up the phone and I went right down on my knees," Darlene Keil said.
So did dozens of other people in western Lucas and eastern Fulton counties who know - or just know of - 25-year-old Staff Sgt. Matthew Keil, who joined the Army almost immediately after graduating from Anthony Wayne High School in 2000.
Sergeant Keil's father, David, called his church, St. Richard's Catholic in Swanton, which put the request on its prayer chain to 42 people. The Rev. Daniel Zak prayed for Sergeant Keil in all four weekend Masses and again Tuesday and yesterday.
The 110 students at St. Richard's School are poised to start a letter-writing campaign as soon as they have a hospital room number for Sergeant Keil.
But that's kept changing.
Sergeant Keil was flown from Iraq to Germany on Saturday. Then on Tuesday, he was flown to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.
And with every move, the Keil family and friends realized his condition was far more critical than the original news that he had been shot in the shoulder by a sniper on Friday while on patrol in Iraq.
Yesterday afternoon, even before Sergeant Keil's mother, father, siblings, and grandmother got to see him at Walter Reed, they were told the bullet had done much more damage than they realized. More damage than they were ready to talk about. Probably more damage than Sergeant Keil, who has been heavily sedated, is himself aware of.
Damage that might make it very difficult for Darlene Keil to follow the "don't you dare cry!" orders given to her by Sgt. Jerry LaComb while she is at her son's side this week.
Sergeant LaComb is the son of a good friend of Darlene Keil's mother, Dorothy Jacoby. He's stationed in Germany and only vaguely knew of Sergeant Keil as the grandson of one of his mother's friends.
But when his mother, Gisela LaComb, called him from Toledo over the weekend, he immediately said he would drive 90 minutes from his home to be with Sergeant Keil as soon as he landed in Germany.
"I'm here on behalf of your family, and I'll stay with you and pray with you," are the words he told northwest Ohioans that he spoke to Sergeant Keil.
And then he told Darlene Keil that he was going to hold a phone to her son's ear so that she could talk to him, even though he wouldn't be able to respond because he was using a breathing tube.
"Matt, this is mom," she recalled telling him on that first call over the weekend. "And I just want you to know we love you and are so proud of you. And we're going to be seeing you soon."
But even then, even when she knew less about his injuries than she knows now, she felt "just devastation."
"It's just too much to grasp," she said.
For so long, Sergeant Keil had been lucky.
He'd completed one tour in Iraq without injury as well as assignments in Kosovo, South Korea, and elsewhere. But Darelene Keil had a bad feeling about this second tour he was on as an infantryman with a unit based in Fort Carson, Colo.
When Sergeant Keil called on her birthday on Feb. 7, she said she told him: "This is it. You are not going back there anymore. I don't care if I have to hog-tie you and drive to Canada."
Sergeant Keil had volunteered for his first tour in Iraq. Back then, he was single and felt bad for the married men who were being called up, his father said. When he returned to the states, he felt reasonably assured that he would not be asked to return. But then his whole brigade was deployed, and by that time, Sergeant Keil was about to become a married man, one of the very men he had been willing to step in for earlier.
Back in Lucas County, the war in Iraq has brought back horrible memories to Mrs. LaComb. She was a girl in Germany during World War II and her family had so little that she and her mother shared a pair of shoes. That meant that she couldn't go to school when her mother needed to go somewhere wearing their shoes.
Thinking about how yet another war is leading to such hardships for another generation has long troubled her.
"I just wish it was all over!" she said.
But now that Sergeant Keil has been injured, her feelings have magnified.
"You know, you hear of this and it's always far away and it doesn't hurt you because it's someone else," she said of the daily reports of injuries and deaths in Iraq. "But when it hits your friends or neighbors, you feel very, very sad."
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