Army War Hero Honored by Grandson at Yuma Proving Ground
June 19, 2013
America was built by the service of generations of ordinary people who did extraordinary things.
Keith A. Ware, contracting officer representative for Yuma Test Center's Contracting Branch, has lived this more than most. Representing the third consecutive generation of his family to serve in uniform, Ware is the grandson of Maj. Gen. Keith Lincoln Ware, one of the most distinguished Army officers of the last century.
Born at the proving ground while his father served here as an air traffic controller, Ware grew up in Yuma, graduated from high school and worked on the range for a summer as a teenager prior to joining the Air Force in the early 1990s.
"I loved it," Ware said. "I planned on making it a career."
Though he took to the military, at first Ware knew only the sketchiest details of his famous forebear's service.
"I didn't know much about my grandfather until after I joined the military. I knew he was a general and that he was important, but not much else."
He quickly found there was a lot to learn: his grandfather was arguably the most accomplished Soldier of his kind to ever put on a uniform. Drafted six months before Pearl Harbor from a job working for the city of Glendale, Ca., by early 1942 Keith L. Ware was a student in the newly-created Officer's Candidates School (OCS), where he quickly distinguished himself. Decades later, he was a major general, reputedly the first OCS graduate to become a general officer. But there was plenty of distinguished service in between.
"I find the fact that he was a drafted enlisted who rose all the way up to two-star general an amazing feat," said Ware. "He was a lieutenant colonel by the time he was 29 years old."
Ware saw over 600 days of combat during World War II. As Allied forces advanced across France toward Germany in the bitter cold of December 1944, the German Army made a last desperate offensive. Known as the Battle of the Bulge, it was the bloodiest fighting experienced by American forces in the entire war. Ware had seen an enormous amount of dangerous combat that nearly killed him, but over several grueling hours the day after Christmas, he led 11 men and a tank on a daring and ultimately successful assault against an entrenched German position. The heroics earned him a Purple Heart and the Congressional Medal of Honor, which was presented to him in a ceremony in Nuremberg weeks before Germany surrendered, as well as a great deal of media attention when he returned to the States.
As most American troops demobilized after the war, Ware stayed in the Army, quietly building an even more distinguished career through the 1950s and 1960s.
"He worked long hours," said his grandson. "To have that combat experience and attain the rank he did shows he lived his work."
By 1967, Maj. Gen. Ware was the Army's Chief of Information. It was an important job in the Pentagon, but far away from the increasingly unstable situation in Vietnam, where nearly 500,000 American troops were serving. Ware requested a command in country, and got it.
"He volunteered to go to Vietnam. That's in essence who he was."
Unsurprisingly, Ware's service in Vietnam was distinguished. When American forces were stunned by the Tet Offensive in early 1968, it was the newly-arrived Ware who quickly organized a successful defense of Saigon. For this success he was given command of the Army's 1st Infantry Division, known as the Big Red One. By September of that year, the division was engaged in fierce fighting close to the Cambodian border. Never one to lead from the rear, Ware and several subordinates flew in a Huey helicopter to reconnoiter the scene of the running battle, and were apparently shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade. Ware's grim final superlative was as the first Army general killed in action in Vietnam. He was 52 years old.
Though he has been gone 45 years, Maj. Gen. Ware's legacy lives on. Numerous buildings, a school and a parade ground at Army posts across the nation have been named in his honor, as have the Army's prestigious award for journalism and other public affairs activities. In his time at Yuma Proving Ground, Ware has encountered people with distinct memories of his famous grandfather.
"The military is a small world," he said. "At YPG I've run into two people who either knew my grandfather or served with him."
One told Ware that his grandfather had been his childhood hero.
"That just struck me," he stated. "Of course I see my grandfather as a hero, but I also see him as my grandfather. When this man put it that way, it gave me a new perspective on him."
Ware and his family seem at peace with the fact that a part of their grandfather's memory belongs to the nation. Aside from some photos and the well-preserved ribbon his Medal of Honor was attached to, he his little in the way of official mementos of his grandfather.
"His Medal of Honor, uniforms, and memorabilia are on loan to the Army. I don't think the family will ever take possession of them: they have their place in museums for others to view. I think that's where they belong."
The legacy of service lives on in the hearts of Ware's two daughters, too.
"My oldest daughter did a report on him this year," he said. "They both like talking about him. They're both very aware of him and the things he accomplished."