ARLINGTON, Va. (Army News Service, Dec. 2, 2009) -- Medal of Honor recipient Leonard B. Keller was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery Monday, 32 years after he and another Soldier performed acts of bravery in Vietnam that merited the United States' highest military decoration.
Keller died Oct. 18 from injuries suffered in a motorcycle accident in Milton, Fla.
On May 2, 1967, then-Sgt. Keller, along with then-Spc. Raymond R. Wright, were on a combat patrol in the Ap Bac zone when their unit was attacked by snipers and enemies in bunkers. The Soldiers, both members of Company A, 3rd Battalion, 60th Infantry Regiment, 9th Infantry Division, cleared seven bunkers while under sniper fire the entire time.
"The two-man assault had driven an enemy platoon from a well-prepared position, accounted for numerous enemy dead, and prevented further friendly casualties," according to Keller's Medal of Honor citation. "Sergeant Keller's selfless heroism and indomitable fighting spirit saved the lives of many of his comrades and inflicted serious damage on the enemy."
After clearing the bunkers, Keller and Wright returned to their unit to assist with the wounded Soldiers.
Both men were presented the Medal of Honor Sept. 19, 1968, by President Lyndon B. Johnson.
"They represent the courage and the selflessness, the eternal striving of the American spirit," Johnson said during the awards ceremony. "The men who stand beside me here today [were] impatient men who did not wait in the bunker before the battle was over, but joined it with incredible courage."
Keller was originally from Rockport, Ill., and was drafted in 1966 at the age of 19. Keller was discharged from the Army in August 1968, and worked for more than 20 years at the Pensacola Naval Complex, before retiring in December 2008.
"Len Keller is a wonderful example of a modern-day hero, but you would never know it," said Santa Rosa County Commissioner Don Salter, speaking at Keller's retirement ceremony. "In every regard, he is a living example of what every person in uniform should aspire to be."
On a cold, rainy Monday morning, a crowd of more than 40 family members, fellow servicemembers - including four living Medal of Honor recipients - and friends gathered near section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery to say farewell to a man who served his country for nearly 30 years.
Soldiers of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) Caisson Platoon led the procession fromMcClellan Circle to the hero's final resting place. Chaplain Capt. Jason Nobles said a brief prayer over the casket, before presenting Keller's daughters Michelle and Nichole with a folded American flag.
Keller is remembered by most as a humble man, who thought of himself as no more special than those that followed in his footsteps to fight for America.
"I want to say thank you to the young men and women of the armed forces for doing what you do today," Keller said during his retirement speech in December 2008. "I was drafted, you kids today raise your right hand knowing you are going to war. What a great country we live in. There really is nothing better than America."
(Alex McVeigh writes for the Pentagram newspaper at Joint Base Myer - Henderson Hall in Arlington, Va.)