Leonard B. Keller
Sergeant, United States Army
Keller died October 18, 2009, from injuries suffered in a motorcycle accident in Milton, Florida.
On May 2, 1967, then-Sergeant Keller, along with then-Specialist Raymond R. Wright, were on a combat patrol in the Ap Bac zone when their unit was attacked by snipers and enemies in bunkers. The Soldiers, both members of Company A, 3rd Battalion, 60th Infantry Regiment, 9th Infantry Division, cleared seven bunkers while under sniper fire the entire time.
"The two-man assault had driven an enemy platoon from a well-prepared position, accounted for numerous enemy dead, and prevented further friendly casualties," according to Keller's Medal of Honor citation. "Sergeant Keller's selfless heroism and indomitable fighting spirit saved the lives of many of his comrades and inflicted serious damage on the enemy."
After clearing the bunkers, Keller and Wright returned to their unit to assist with the wounded Soldiers.
Both men were presented the Medal of Honor September 19, 1968, by President Lyndon B. Johnson.
"They represent the courage and the selflessness, the eternal striving of the American spirit," Johnson said during the awards ceremony. "The men who stand beside me here today [were] impatient men who did not wait in the bunker before the battle was over, but joined it with incredible courage."
Keller was originally from Rockport, Illinois, and was drafted in 1966 at the age of 19. Keller was discharged from the Army in August 1968, and worked for more than 20 years at the Pensacola Naval Complex, before retiring in December 2008.
"Len Keller is a wonderful example of a modern-day hero, but you would never know it," said Santa Rosa County Commissioner Don Salter, speaking at Keller's retirement ceremony. "In every regard, he is a living example of what every person in uniform should aspire to be."
On a cold, rainy Monday morning, a crowd of more than 40 family members, fellow servicemembers - including four living Medal of Honor recipients - and friends gathered near section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery to say farewell to a man who served his country for nearly 30 years.
Soldiers of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) Caisson Platoon led the procession fromMcClellan Circle to the hero's final resting place. Chaplain Captain Jason Nobles said a brief prayer over the casket, before presenting Keller's daughters Michelle and Nichole with a folded American flag.
Keller is remembered by most as a humble man, who thought of himself as no more special than those that followed in his footsteps to fight for America.
"I want to say thank you to the young men and
women of the armed forces for doing what you do today," Keller said during
his retirement speech in December 2008. "I was drafted, you kids today
raise your right hand knowing you are going to war. What a great country
we live in. There really is nothing better than America."
Rain fell as a soldier from the Old Guard -- the Army's ceremonial unit, the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment -- carried the sky-blue Medal of Honor flag behind Sergeant Leonard B. Keller's horse-led caisson through Arlington National Cemetery on Monday.
Keller, 62, of Milton, Florida, formerly of Rockland, Illinois, died October 18, 2009, from injuries suffered in a motorcycle accident. He was leaving the Fleet Reserve Association Branch 210 in Milton when his custom-built, three-wheel Harley-Davidson overturned.
Keller was awarded the Medal of Honor, the country's highest award for valor, by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968 "for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty" for his actions May 2, 1967, in the Ap Bac zone in Vietnam, his citation reads.
"Leaping to the top of a dike, he and a comrade charged the enemy bunkers, dangerously exposing themselves to the enemy fire. Armed with a light machine gun, Sgt. Keller and his comrade began a systematic assault on the enemy bunkers," it continues.
The two men charged and cleared seven bunkers that had ambushed a previous unit as well as their own, the citation says. "The ferocity of their assault had carried the soldiers beyond the line of bunkers into the tree line, forcing snipers to flee."
The two men chased the snipers, cleared a path for their unit and, when they ran out of ammunition, returned to help the wounded.
The other soldier, Specialist 4th Class Raymond R. Wright, also received the Medal of Honor for his actions that day. Wright died in 1999. Both soldiers were members of Company A, 3rd Battalion in the 60th and 9th infantry divisions.
Many of Keller's colleagues and friends at the Fleet Reserve Association were unaware of his awards until after his death.
"He was a fun-loving, humble guy," said James Dodge, a friend and employee of Keller's.
Dodge worked in the supply department at Whiting Field Naval Air Station, a branch of the Pensacola Naval Air Station supply department, which Keller ran for about 20 years. Keller retired in 2008.
Keller "liked to have a good time, and everybody loved him," Dodge said. "That is basically it. He was just a great guy."
Dodge said the national chapter of the Fleet Reserve Association posthumously awarded Keller an honorary membership.
Donnie Gabbard, 54, an Army veteran and Fleet Reserve member, described Keller as a man of good character who took care of his family and friends, especially his children and grandchildren. He said Keller was always "more than happy to pitch in" when someone needed help.
"You might say old soldiers don't show a lot of emotion or talk about a lot of stuff," Gabbard said. "They keep it to themselves, but he is definitely missed."
During Monday's service, Keller's family and friends stood as a firing party shot three volleys. With tears in their eyes and hands over their hearts, they listened to the bugler play taps. Four Congressional Medal of Honor recipients and eight members of the Patriot Guard saluted the flag.
"We all respect him, and we all miss him," said Joe Sheddan, 72, a friend and member of the Fleet Reserve Association. "He was a patriot who made every other veteran proud. I think that is the best way you can describe him."
Keller is buried a few rows from a Medal of Honor recipient from the Iraq war, Army Specialist Ross Andrew McGinnis, 19.
There are 92 living Medal of Honor recipients.
The President of the United States
KELLER, LEONARD B.
Rank and organization: Sergeant, U.S. Army, Company A, 3d Battalion, 60th Infantry, 9th Infantry Division. Place and date: Ap Bac Zone, Republic of Vietnam, 2 May 1967. Entered service at: Chicago, Ill. Born: 25 February 1947, Rockford, Illinois
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Sweeping through an area where an enemy ambush had occurred earlier, Sgt. Keller's unit suddenly came under Intense automatic weapons and small-arms fire from a number of enemy bunkers and numerous snipers in nearby trees. Sergeant Keller quickly moved to a position where he could fire at a bunker from which automatic fire was received, killing 1 Viet Cong who attempted to escape. Leaping to the top of a dike, he and a comrade charged the enemy bunkers, dangerously exposing themselves to the enemy fire. Armed with a light machinegun, Sgt. Keller and his comrade began a systematic assault on the enemy bunkers. While Sergeant Keller neutralized the fire from the first bunker with his machinegun, the other soldier threw in a hand grenade killing its occupant. Then he and the other soldier charged a second bunker, killing its occupant. A third bunker contained an automatic rifleman who had pinned down much of the friendly platoon. Again, with utter disregard for the fire directed to them, the 2 men charged, killing the enemy within. Continuing their attack, Sergeant Keller and his comrade assaulted 4 more bunkers, killing the enemy within. During their furious assault, Sergeant Keller and his comrade had been almost continuously exposed to intense sniper fire as the enemy desperately sought to stop their attack. The ferocity of their assault had carried the soldiers beyond the line of bunkers into the treeline, forcing snipers to flee. The 2 men gave immediate chase, driving the enemy away from the friendly unit. When his ammunition was exhausted, Sergeant Keller returned to the platoon to assist in the evacuation of the wounded. The 2-man assault had driven an enemy platoon from a well prepared position, accounted for numerous enemy dead, and prevented further friendly casualties. Sergeant Keller's selfless heroism and indomitable fighting spirit saved the lives of many of his comrades and inflicted serious damage on the enemy. His acts were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself and the U.S. Army.
KELLER, LEONARD B
Posted: 3 December 2009 Updated: 19 April 2010
Photo By Don Morfe, April 2010