Richard E. Keith
U.S. Army — Major General of California State Military Reserves
511th Parachute Infantry, H Company, 11th Airborne Division
World War Ⅱ (1943-1945) & National Guard (1978-1993)
Richard E. Keith is a man of integrity. He is the epitome of what an American soldier should be. He is enthusiastic, courageous, strong, and intelligent. Keith said, “You are the people you surround yourself with,” which agrees with the statement; you contribute to the people around you. Keith’s morale stayed high and steady throughout his service in World War Ⅱ which caused the success in improvement of the people around him.
Richard E. Keith was born in Chicago Illinois on December 23, 1924. Although the start of the Great Depression caused his family to be broken up early on, at 15, he was reunited with his mother and two brothers in Chicago. He went through high school while taking night classes to make up for the education he missed while moving constantly. In 1943, after completing just three and half years of high school, he spent a semester in college. Once the semester was over, he eagerly volunteered to join the Army, for fear that the war would be over before he got in. At that time all the 18 year old boys were going into the army, it was the thing to do. Keith explained young people’s thoughts about the Army as, “It was a great adventure, particularly if you had been through the Depression… They’re going to pay you good money, and it was exciting.” Keith’s father was already in the army at the time he enlisted, and both of his brothers were eager to get in as well, so it was no surprise when Keith volunteered along with the millions of other young people his age.
When Keith enlisted into the Army, he volunteered to be a paratrooper. Being a paratrooper requires extra strength mentally and physically. Since Keith ran track in college, he was able to get through the 12 weeks of basic training without any problem. After his basic training in Anniston, Alabama, he proceeded to Fort Benning, Georgia to go through parachute training. He described this training as “very, very strenuous” physically, so that only the people who really wanted to be there would stay. Keith guessed that probably 50 percent dropped out. A paratrooper has to withstand all the dangers of war, as well as the added danger of jumping out of an aircraft at 1200 feet in the air. If you didn’t learn how to pack a parachute at that training, then it was your own life at stake.
Keith was assigned to the already activated 511th Parachute Infantry out of the 11th Airborne Division, after his special training. He says, regarding his initial experience with the division, “Everywhere you went, you went in double-time” to convey the rapid pace of life and learning that was expected from you. In April of 1944 the 11th Airborne Division was sent on a boat to Dobodura, New Guinea as a reserve division for General MacArthur. After more strenuous training in New Guinea, in November of 1944, the 11th airborne division went into combat. At this point, Keith’s morale was at “one thousand percent” he was anxious and ready for combat. On an island called Leyte in the Philippines, Keith as an infantry man, spent 30 days trekking over jungle covered mountains and ridges in a constant downpour. Keith said, “Every night the enemy would attack [so there was maybe 6 hours of sleep], and every day you would attack the enemy. You would just keep moving until you reached your “destination” which is your elimination of the enemy,”. Keith was a machine gunner among rifle men. That made him a target because of the added threat he posed. However, his morale stayed high throughout his time on Leyte. There his unit operated as a team. Everyone knew what they were doing, and so whatever the situation was they overcame it as a team. They lived together, fought together, and succeeded together.
After the battle of Leyte, Keith went to the island Mindoro where the 11th Airborne Division was staging to go to the island Luzon. The overall mission on Luzon was to capture the southern end of Manila and the airfield (Nicolas Field) that was there. Keith and his division parachuted down 35 miles southwest of Manila. As units, they fought their way up to Manila where the enemy was waiting for them with over 6,000 Japanese soldiers. The battle of Manila was brutal, Keith said, “Some days were blurs. You just kept going and going, and just to go six miles probably took just five or six days. That’s how bad it was,”. By the end of the battle, the H Company that Keith was a part of only had 52 men left, as opposed to the hundreds they started out with, and Keith himself had suffered an artillery wound. But even through all of this, Keith’s morale stayed high. Not once did he doubt why he was there, or the importance of what he was doing; he stayed excited and motivated.
Once the Battle of Manila was over, Keith was sent to Japan, he was based out of Atsugi Air Base near Yokohama during the occupation of Japan. It was December of 1945 when he was sent home. Keith said that he had a wonderful life when he returned home, there were plenty of jobs, opportunities to go to college, and he could raise a family. He feels that he has benefited greatly from his experience in the army and it is what made him the man that he is. He came out “a very confident young man”. He believes that going into military is a “great and demanding career” that results in a “great deal of satisfaction” but you have to really want it for yourself otherwise you will not get the most out of it.
Today, Richard E. Keith lives in a lovely house in San Anselmo, California. He has 6 children, 6 grandchildren, and 8 great grandchildren who all take care of him. His house is decorated with beautiful artworks that add to the quality of his already admirable nature. Keith’s father told him, “Keep your shoes shined, your hat clean. And, when you think you’re through for the day, pull one more door knob.” This is a saying that emphasizes the importance of working hard, working smart, and working honestly as a part of being successful. Keith honors the importance of having integrity and if everybody had as an authentic character as Richard E. Keith, the world would undoubtedly be a better place.
Interview Conducted by Cassidy Bruner on November 26, 2016