Life's work leads to hall of fame
November 20, 2008
Mike Kehoe didn't serve his country with the idea of raking up a lot of recognition for himself.
In fact, he finds recognition somewhat embarrassing.
But this retired colonel has received his share of medals and awards for his service in Vietnam and throughout his military career. Recognition also followed him in a civilian career as a teacher.
And now, as he goes about his work as a veterans service officer in the Madison County office of the State of Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs, recognition has found him again. Kehoe has been inducted into the Officer Candidate School Hall of Fame for 2008.
"A man from my track vehicle in Vietnam called me out of the blue and told me he had heard that if an OCS graduate ended up making full colonel, then that was one of the thresholds to be eligible for the Hall of Fame," Kehoe said.
"He thought that would be cool. I found it a little bit embarrassing."
But his war buddy wouldn't let it go. He filled out the paperwork and Kehoe was selected for the honor. Kehoe traveled to Fort Benning, Ga., earlier this year to be inducted in the OCS Hall of Fame.
The induction ceremony was impressive. Kehoe had to admit that maybe, just maybe, recognition isn't a bad thing after all.
"It was blow away cool," he said of the ceremony. "I think even my wife went 'Wow, this is a big deal.' It made my son and daughter really proud. It was an opportunity for my family. It was more of an honor than I anticipated."
And now along with his Legion of Merit, Bronze Star with Valor, Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Meritorious Service Medal, Army Commendation Medal and Parachutist Badge, and 2007 induction in the Madison County Hall of Heroes, Kehoe can add his OCS Hall of Fame status. He even has an OCS coin that is engraved with his name on one side.
Though he appreciates the recognition, Kehoe chooses to be low key about it.
"I'm not sure recognition is all about us (veterans)," Kehoe said. "I think it's important for the current generation to see what can happen in their careers. It's more important that current military serving see that our country puts a value on people who serve."
Kehoe comes from a family that proudly serves its nation. He is the son of a World War II veteran. His daughter, Kimberly, who is a major and a doctor in the Army, is a combat veteran now serving at Walter Reed Army Hospital. Looking back, Kehoe knows he's come a long way from the day he was drafted as an enlisted Soldier.
"I was drafted in the Army in 1965. I didn't ask to do it. But then they needed officers for Vietnam and they asked me 'How would you like to go to Officer Candidate School'' If I went, that meant adding a couple years to my service," Kehoe said. "When I was in Vietnam, if I committed to one more year I would make captain. But then I got wounded and spent half of my time as captain in a hospital. So after I got out, I decided to keep serving."
In the '60s, there were three primary OCS locations - Fort Benning, for infantry, Fort Sill, Okla., for field artillery and Fort Knox, Ky., for armor and tanks (now OCS is located solely at Fort Benning). Kehoe chose Fort Knox for his OCS training.
After graduation in 1967, Kehoe's first assignment was as a battalion training officer for the Army's Training Center in Fort Lewis, Wash. In 1968, he was sent to Vietnam, where he spent seven months and 13 days serving as the third platoon leader for Alpha 36, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment (Blackhorse). Thirteen days before he was to leave on R&R, Kehoe's life almost came to an end.
"I was wounded and left Vietnam unexpectedly," he said, recalling the firefight where he was shot in the left side of his face.
His Army career has included serving as commander of three different companies - a basic training company, tank company and armored cavalry troop - as a lieutenant and a captain. He also served as an assistant professor of military science at North Carolina State University, was the first participant in the Army's Training with Industry Program at Turner Broadcasting in Atlanta, commanded the Armed Forces Radio and Television Network in Vicenza, Italy and served as the tank modernization coordinator for the Army's Forces Command in Atlanta. His last assignment was as the director of public affairs for the Army's Health Services Command at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.
His military career accomplishments are reflected in his OCS Hall of Fame selection.
"They make the choice for the OCS Hall of Fame based on your body of work," Kehoe said. "If you graduate from OCS and stay in the Army, it's difficult to get promoted all the way to general because you are competing against the West Point graduates and the college graduates who were tops in their ROTC program.
"An enlisted Soldier who graduates from OCS and is lucky enough to make it 20 years normally gets out as a major. It's very unusual to make full colonel. It is so amazingly competitive."
Kehoe retired from the military in 1992, and went on to own a marketing business, and then to teach communications and speech classes on the high school level, where he was nominated "First Year Teacher of the Year." He came to Huntsville in 2005, where he first worked as a speech communication and career management teacher at Virginia College and earned "Teacher of the Quarter" before joining the Madison County VA office.
About six years ago, Kehoe took a trip back to Vietnam with his son and an old battle buddy.
"It ended up being a great trip," he said. "My son's observation was very meaningful to me. Michael said 'All of my life, my dad, my coaches, my teachers, my counselors and all the male role models in my life were Vietnam veterans. But when I watched the news on TV, my perception was that all Vietnam veterans are druggies.' He realized how poorly treated we were when we came back and how bad the media made us look."
Kehoe, who is the only Vietnam veteran now working in the Madison County VA office, enjoys his job assisting veterans and veteran widows, most of them associated with World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam.
"They are not any different than society as a whole. Some of them are down and out, and I'm here to help them. The payback to me is tenfold," he said.
"The cool thing about this job is I get to help veterans all day long. Many of them don't realize the benefits that are available to them."
Kehoe is grateful that veterans of today's Global War on Terrorism are being given the appreciation and respect they deserve.
"It makes me feel great for them because it's such a cool thing to see how communities are welcoming them back home. It's great the way we are doing as a country toward our veterans," he said. "But it also makes me realize all over again how badly Vietnam veterans were treated."
No matter his feelings about the outcome of the Vietnam War, Kehoe thinks all young people should consider military service.
"It's just a splendid opportunity," he said. "Even if you only do three years, it's such a broadening experience. It's very worthwhile. I was drafted and I didn't want to go. But because of the Army, my life has been a whole lot of opportunity."
Kehoe is already anticipating his next opportunity. He is the only employee of the state VA program who was recently chosen to participate in a six-week legal internship with the Board of Veteran Appeals in Washington, D.C.
"I get a lot of satisfaction from this job," Kehoe said.