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This Day in History: Miguel Keith's heroism in Vietnam

On this day in 1970, a hero engages in an action that would earn him the Medal of Honor. Miguel Keith left high school in December 1968, thinking that he’d join the Marine Corps Reserve. By May 1969, he was a member of the regular Marine Corps.

He would serve for just one year.

Pfc. Keith was deployed to Vietnam and arrived there in November 1969. He soon volunteered for a program known as the Combined Action Platoon (CAP). In that program, small groups of Marines would live in villages with the South Vietnamese. They would provide security for the village, but they would also teach the men to defend their own homes.

During these months, Keith came to know and respect many of the locals. He was also promoted to Lance Corporal. But it was his bravery on May 8, 1970, that would earn him a Medal of Honor.

On that day, Keith’s village in Quang Ngai Province came under attack by the enemy.

Those in the village were outnumbered. Moreover, the initial ground attack left Keith seriously wounded—but none of this was going to stop the young Marine. He had a job to do, and he would do it.

Keith ran across a “fire-swept terrain,” his citation notes, to help the local villagers secure their defensive positions. Then he grabbed a machine gun and, “while completely exposed to view, proceeded to deliver a hail of devastating machine gun fire against the enemy.”

He turned to see five of the enemy approaching the command post. Ignoring his wounds, he rushed forward, killing three of the attackers and wounding two. Just then, a grenade exploded in his vicinity, wounding Keith still more. But Keith wasn’t done.

“Fighting pain and weakness from loss of blood,” his citation describes, “he again braved the concentrated hostile fire to charge an estimated twenty-five enemy soldiers who were massing to attack.”

Amazingly, he was successful. Four of the enemy were killed and the rest fled. “He held them off, it’s just unreal,” his little brother would later describe to a reporter.

Unfortunately, just as Keith had routed the group of 25 enemy forces, another found an opportunity to take a shot. Keith did not survive this final blow.

Nevertheless, Keith’s efforts had been enough to help the village, and he is credited with saving his platoon that day.

Keith received the Medal of Honor, but he also received another tribute: Expeditionary Sea Base USNS Miguel Keith was named for this hero and commissioned just a few years ago.

“May we always be inspired by the sacrifice of Lance Corporal Miguel Keith,” a United States Navy chaplain concluded at the christening ceremony.

Rest in peace, Sir.

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