Kingman resident Carol Howland said she last spoke to her son James two years ago shortly before he graduated from high school in Comfort, Texas.
"He did not tell me he was going in the Army," Howland said.
"He did not want to frighten me."
Howland, 46, encountered the worst fears of a military mom after military officials disclosed that Kiehl, a 22-year-old Army specialist, was missing in action following an ambush March 23 by Iraqi troops near Nasiniyah.
An Army representative visited the Howland family April 4 to tell them James had died.
The Army sprung another surprise more than a week ago, but the message was more uplifting.
The Army posthumously honored James by presenting the Bronze Star for valor and Purple Heart, awarded for soldiers for war injuries.
A document dated April 9 accompanying the Bronze Star states, "Specialist Kiehl's duty performance and commitment while participating in combat operations to liberate Iraq are in keeping with the highest tradition of selfless service and reflect great credit upon himself, 31st Air Defense Artillery Bridge, Victory Corps and the United States Army."
Kiehl's mother said she was "shocked" to receive the medals so soon after her son's death.
She said she learned about the medals April 18.
Howland, who lives with husband Ed and 10-year-son Frank in downtown Kingman, said she plans to display the medals in the living room and compile a family album of newspaper clippings and other memorabilia of her son.
She said a major from Fort Bliss in Texas, where Kiehl was stationed, informed her than her son killed three Iraqis before he was killed during the ambush.
Kiehl belonged to the 507th Maintenance Co.
The bullet went through Kiehl's right side and took out his lungs and heart, Ed Howland said.
He added that the videotape made by the Iraqi government and aired on international television showed four body bags containing Kiehl's remains and those of three older soldiers.
Fort Bliss officials said the circumstances surrounding Kiehl's death remain under investigation and could not be reached for more details.
Kiehl's mother, stepfather and father hailed his heroism.
"My son was a hero," said Randy Kiehl, a maintenance technician at a bakery who lives in Comfort.
"I would trade all the medals in the world to have my son back.
James excelled in everything he did."
His family also expressed pride that he was buried April 14 at Centerpoint (Texas) Cemetery.
Randy Kiehl said 33 Texas Rangers are buried at the cemetery,
Carol Howland, a correctional officer at the Mohave County Jail in Kingman, said she has received an outpouring of sympathy and support.
She said county employees presented her a box with baby blankets and other items for her son's widow, Jill, who is expecting her first child.
A military support group started at St.
Johns United Methodist Church also plans to pay tribute to Kiehl, organizer Linda Chevalier said.
She said she and children in a Sunday school class at the church sent sympathy cards to Howland and are awaiting a response from her.
Chevalier said the group plans to present a plaque to Howland at a rally for the troops set for May 17 at Centennial Park.
"I am just giving her time," Chevalier said.
While she lost her son, Howland said she would support Frank, who admired his older half-brother, if the boy opted for a military career.
"If that is what he wants to do, I would back him 100 percent," she said.