By Office of the Chief of Public Affairs-MidwestOctober 8, 2009
Story and Photos by Sgt. Kassidy Snyder, Illinois National Guard Public Affairs Office
"Do you know who your commander is'" a fellow Marine asked Kent Ketter of Chatham, Ill. "He was awarded the Medal of Honor." On that day in 1985, Ketter learned his Regimental Commander, Col. Jay R. Vargas of San Diego, Calif., had received the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions in the Vietnam War.
Ketter spent approximately six months under Vargas' command in the Marine Corps, during which time he promoted Ketter to lance corporal. More than 20 years ago Vargas pinned Ketter at a ceremony in front of their headquarters building at Camp Pendleton, Calif. More recently, on Sept. 16, Vargas spoke to several military and civilian individuals at the 404th, Maneuver Enhancement Brigade armory in Chicago, part of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society Convention in Chicago. Soon after, now U.S. Army Capt. Ketter was pinned to major by Vargas. "He was the first one to promote me and may be the last one," said Ketter who has almost 21 years of active military duty service.
Vargas may not remember Ketter because he commanded more than 5,000 Marines, but Ketter has the proof. Over the years, Ketter kept a memorabilia book of all his promotion orders and military related documents. Nearing the front of the book is a signed letter by Vargas, stating the promotion of Ketter to lance corporal. Before the recent promotion, Ketter showed Vargas the book and shared a few memories of their time together at Camp Pendleton. "We had a good regiment," said Vargas.
Vargas was awarded the Medal of Honor on May 14, 1970 by President Richard Nixon for leading his men in an attack along the demilitarized zone separating North and South Vietnam. Although they hadn't slept for 36 hours, Vargas and his men headed down near the village of Dai Do, where they came under heavy fire. Wounded by a grenade, Vargas took out three machine-gun positions and then engaged in hand-to-hand combat with enemy Soldiers. Vargas remained in the open, encouraging and rendering assistance to his Marines when he was hit for the third time in the three-day battle.
Vargas was the 7th Marine Regimental Commander at Camp Pendleton, when Ketter received his first order from boot camp. Ketter enlisted into the Marine Corps in 1984 where he spent eight years. He later enlisted into the Illinois Army National Guard, where he is currently working in the Inspector General's office. It was a mere coincidence Vargas happened to be in the state and speaking at an Illinois National Guard armory the same week Ketter's federal recognition to major came through. "They arranged a flight for me to come meet with him again and have the honor to be pinned by him," said Ketter. "I am very proud of you and wish you well," Vargas said to Ketter.
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