Medal of Honor recipient Sgt. Leonard B. Keller laid to rest

By Christy Goodman
Tuesday, December 1, 2009

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 Sgt. Leonard B. Keller's horse-led caisson through Arlington National Cemetery on Monday.

Keller, 62, of Milton, Fla., formerly of Rockland, Ill., died Oct. 18 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, Spec. 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 Spec. Ross Andrew McGinnis, 19.

There are 92 living Medal of Honor recipients.

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