NAPLES, Italy -- A Navy chaplain assigned to Naples died over the weekend following complications from surgery.
Deputy Chaplain (Lt. Cmdr.) John Keith, 49, of Irvine, Calif., was a familiar face in the small military community. He led a Protestant church service every Sunday, Bible studies and the occasional memorial service.
"He is very well-known and well-loved by the community, and he's leaving a huge hole here for us," base Chaplain (Cmdr.) Manuel Biadog said. "The folks are just completely overwhelmed, shocked. At yesterday's service there was no dry eye there."
Keith died early Saturday in an Italian hospital in Castel Volturno after being transferred from the nearby Naval hospital in Gricignano where he had arrived Friday night complaining of pain, according to several officials on the base.
Endorsed by the Southern Baptist Convention, Keith came to Naples in August 2012 with roughly nine years of experience as a chaplain, much of it with Marines in Okinawa, according to a biography provided by the base chaplain office. He deployed with a Marine unit to Sri Lanka in 2005 to aid tsunami victims and to Kuwait in 2006 as part of the Iraq War.
Biadog recalled first meeting Keith at Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, Calif., when Keith was still in seminary and looking for an endorsement by a congregation. The elder chaplain recommended him to the SBC, and Keith was commissioned in the Navy Chaplain Corps in 2003, according to the biography.
"And then I came to find out he was going to be my deputy (in Naples) and I was completely ecstatic, elated," Biadog said.
Keith's wife was with him when he died, officials said. An adult son was in California at the time, while a younger son was away traveling with a high school sports team.
The date and time for a base memorial service have not yet been announced.