FORT HOOD, Texas - More than half a century after retiring from the Army, a Vietnam veteran received a long-overdue presentation of three medals inside the III Armored Corps and Fort Hood Headquarters here, July 14.
Retired 1st Sgt. D.W. Kieff, now 95 and residing in Harker Heights, Texas, with his wife Linda, retired from the Army in Fort Lewis, Washington in January 1969. At the time of his retirement, he had never been presented with the Republic of Vietnam Service Medal, nor the Bronze Star Medal he earned in 1967. His Korean Service Medal, or mention of his tour to Korea, was also absent on his retirement discharge form, or DD 214.
It took approximately eight months of digging by members of the U.S. Army Garrison - Fort Hood’s Directorate of Human Resources, but they were finally able to set the record straight and make the presentation of those overdue honors. III Armored Corps and Fort Hood Deputy Commanding General Christopher Beck presided over the ceremony, telling Kieff and more than a dozen of his family members in attendance what an honor he was to be able to be a part of the event.
“Our veterans were not honored like they are today back in that time period.’ Beck said. “For those serving today, … we know that we stand on the shoulders of individuals like you, and we thank you for that service. We owe you a debt of gratitude and many thanks for your service to this great nation. 1st Sgt. Kieff, while it took over 50 years to recognized your achievements and dedication, I am extremely honored to stand here today and present you with these well-earned medals.”
“Usually if you don’t receive these awards before you retire from the military, you get dropped in a ditch,” Kieff said prior to the medal presentation ceremony. “I have a son-in-law who is a retired lieutenant colonel in the Army. He went to work on it, and here we are today.”
Retired Lt. Col. Richard Ward, Kieff’s son-in-law, worked closely with Deborah Melendez, a human resource assistant in separations at the Fort Hood Transition Center. Melendez said that through her research, while source documents existed for the Republic of Vietnam Service Medal and Bronze Star, it took more time and as she contacted Patrick Air Force Base, Florida, the executive keeper of Korean service war medals, and the National Archives, both in St. Louis and Washington D.C., to establish Kieff’s Korean Service Medal.
“The journey has been just absolutely an honor," she said. "And meeting a couple of times, when he’d come to the office, just motivated me that much more to pursue and make this all happen for him.”
Official confirmation of Kieff’s Korean service came just the day before the ceremony, Melendez added.
Kieff’s granddaughters helped Beck present his service medals. Brianna Wilson joined the general to present the Korean Service Medal, while Katie Driver joined him to present the Republic of Vietnam Service Medal. Beck then placed Kieff’s long-overdue Bronze Star Medal around his neck.
The irony of having missing medals for so many years wasn’t lost on the retired first sergeant, who dedicated his career to helping Soldiers.
“I took care of my Soldiers, but that happens,” Kieff said. “I feel very good. At least you’re going to receive something not after you’re gone. It makes it a whole lot different.”
Kieff, who joined the Army in 1949 as a carpenter, remains very proud of his 20-year service in the Army Corps of Engineers.
“All of my career, except for 23 months, was spent in construction engineer battalions,” Kieff said. “For those 23 months, I was at Fort Lee, Virginia (with) the post engineers.”
Members of the 36th Engineer Brigade, led by Col. Anthony Barbina, attended the event to support and congratulate their fellow engineer. They took a group photo with Kieff following the ceremony to commemorate the moment.
Following the medal presentation, Ward presented Kieff with a wood-framed American flag, and then joined him to present Melendez with a bouquet of red roses thanking her for her hard work and dedication on the retired first sergeant’s behalf.
“(It is) an honor,” her boss, Mike Redwine, chief of the Transition Center, said. “She did a great job.”
Melendez said the final step in the process will be to issue a DD 215, a correction to Kieff’s discharge document.
“Today,” she said, “we have the privilege to right that wrong. If anyone asks, I’ll do it every single time.”