LIANE HANSEN, host:
More than 3,500 American troops have been killed in the Iraq war. One of them was Keith Nepsa. The 21-year-old man was killed this month in a roadside bombing. Nepsa's friends are keeping a promise they made to him.
We got this story from Amanda Robbins of member station WKSU in Kent, Ohio.
(Soundbite of siren)
AMANDA ROBBINS: The black dusty car with two red racing strips running down its hood has been sitting in a soldier's driveway at home for years. Now, it's in a small garage where Curtis Haught works. Repair shop is closed but Haught is still in his mechanics outfit, wearing a backwards baseball cap and dripping in sweat. He says this was car was Nepsa's passion.
Mr. CURTIS HAUGHT (Mechanic): We worked on that car every time we came home from leave. And the last time he was home, we got the motor running and then he asked me before he left, can you get a bunch of friends together and have it ready for me to drive whenever I get home and I promised him I would. So that's why we're here today, trying to get it running for him for whenever he gets home.
ROBBINS: Keith Nepsa's friends became mechanics after graduating from high school (unintelligible) in New Philadelphia, Ohio. Nepsa joined the army to earn money for college to study computers. He was killed nine months after reenlisting for a second tour in Iraq. Haught says Nepsa was reluctant to go back to Iraq but still didn't have enough money saved for college.
Mr. HAUGHT: He never wanted loan. He wanted to pay for everything on his own. And he just said I got to do it. He goes out to make more money - if I reenlisted and he's like, I couldn't turn him down.
ROBBINS: His friends laugh, sharing stories from how they all met playing little league baseball to the time Nepsa got suspended from school for dyeing his hair blue. Dark haired and unshaven, Kirk Marcoleta(ph) sips on a beer, remembering Nepsa's infectious sense of humor.
Mr. KIRK MARCOLETA (Keith Nepsa's Friend): He made fun out of everything. Even sitting in class, it was - or we're sitting in study hall doing nothing, he would always find us, chatting around with him and - he always laugh and you can hear him laugh from a mile away.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. MARCOLETA: He's a little - the laugh (unintelligible), you can hear it.
ROBBINS: When Casey Webber shows up to help work on the car, the blond haired, blue eyed mechanic is still wearing his uniform form the repair shop where he works across town, his hands are black with grease. Webber finds it odd that Nepsa went to fight in the war.
Mr. CASEY WEBBER (Keith Nepsa's Friend): They're going to send you over there. And my biggest fear was that he wasn't going to come back. I just - I prayed everyday for him to come home safely but it just - it's hard. It's hard that he's gone.
ROBBINS: Keith Nepsa will always be a part of Curtis Haught. He points to a tattoo on his forearm that he got the day after he learned of Nepsa's death. It's a large cross with Keith scripted down the middle.
Mr. HAUGHT: It's just my tribute to him, to show him how much he means to me. And it's just my way to keep him with me at all times. It will get better but I'll never - I'll never ever be okay with him being gone. That would never be all right. I mean, if he was here, he'll be down here working on his car with United States.
ROBBINS: Friends of Keith Nepsa and others in this small community who never knew him have donated car parts to help restore this Camaro. His friends plan to drive it in Keith Nepsa's funeral procession.
For NPR News, I'm Amanda Robbins.
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