Every weekday for 110 straight days we will feature a different living recipient of the
Medal of Honor. These are the men who have received their nation's highest military honor. Brian is a board member of the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation. The words and photos are courtesy of Artisan Books, publishers of Medal of Honor: Portraits of Valor Beyond the Call of Duty by Peter Collier with photographs by Nick Del Calzo.
LEONARD B. KELLER
Private First Class, U.S. ARMY Company A, 3rd Battalion, 60th Infantry, 9th Infantry Division
Leonard Keller had just turned nineteen when he was drafted in the spring of 1966. He completed basic training at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, went on to advanced infantry training at Fort Polk, Louisiana, then joined the 60th Infantry in Vietnam. When he arrived that summer, he experienced culture shock. The sights, sounds, and smells made him feel that he was on a different planet.
His unit was stationed in the Mekong Delta.
Keller's days took on a predictable rhythm: going out "into the bush" by helicopter or boat for several days on a reconnaissance mission, then returning to base for a day of rest and relaxation, then out into the field again. But constant firefights with the enemy kept things interesting.
On May 2, 1967, another U.S. infantry company was ambushed by the Vietcong in an area near the Ap Bac Zone, and Private First Class Keller's unit went to the rescue. Soon after it was dropped off by helicopter, heavy fire erupted from enemy bunkers and snipers in surrounding trees. The killed and wounded from the other American company were sprawled on the ground. His own unit was also taking casualties. As he heard voices yelling, "Retreat!" Keller became angry and called out, "Let's go get them!" to an American named Ray. The two of them charged the enemy.
Carrying an M-60 machine gun and belts of ammunition looped over his shoulders, Keller killed a Vietcong soldier in his path. Clambering up onto a dike with Ray, he began a systematic assault on a series of enemy bunkers. First Keller laid down a base of fire,
and then his comrade lobbed grenades into an enemy position. Then it was Keller's turn to throw the grenades while Ray provided him with covering fire. After they had taken out three more North Vietnamese positions, they continued their ferocious two-man fight against the enemy despite continuous withering fire. They were able to destroy four more North Vietnamese bunkers before their assault carried them into the tree line beyond the bunkers. There, enemy snipers who had been exacting a heavy toll on the American force climbed down from their firing positions and ran away. Eventually, the entire North Vietnamese force broke ranks and withdrew. Out of ammunition, Keller returned to his unit and helped load wounded GIs onto helicopters for evacuation.
In the summer of 1968, Keller, now a sergeant, was back in the United States when he was informed that he was to receive the Medal of Honor. However, he left the Army that August having heard nothing more about the medal. He assumed that there had been a mistake or the brass had changed its mind. Soon thereafter he was on the West Coast when a team of Secret Service agents contacted him and told him he had to go to Washington, D.C.
Leonard Keller was awarded the Medal of Honor at the White House on September 19, 1968. It was a moving occasion for him and for President Lyndon Johnson as well. Keller noticed that tears coursed down LBJ's cheeks throughout the entire ceremony.
Keller married a woman who had served in the Navy. Today, he himself works for the Navy in Pensacola, Fla.