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Miguel Keith, USMC

Like most of history’s genuine heroes, Miguel Keith at first appears to be an unlikely candidate for our Nation’s highest award for bravery. He was born in San Antonio, Texas on June 2, 1951 to Delores and Miguel Hernandez.

They divorced while he was very young and Delores subsequently met and married Bobbie Keith, a construction worker and former Marine. Bobbie had to follow work opportunities causing his family to move often. The family eventually followed work to Nebraska in the early 1960s. Bobbie loved young Miguel and legally adopted him, giving him his name. He taught Miguel how to do push-ups and other physical exercises including basic judo. Although Miguel was full of spirit and was all boy, he was always an obedient and respectful son. The Keiths moved to North Omaha which was, and still is, the toughest part of a very tough city. In the late 1960s it was a tough working-class neighborhood. Young men in North Omaha didn’t go to college after high school, they joined the military.

Miguel Keith immediately felt at home in North Omaha and made friends quickly. He went to North High School where he struggled in many of his classes, but he excelled in JROTC. The Army Instructor Sergeant Stevens connected with the rowdy boys in the class, teaching them patriotism, honor and duty in a way that resonated with them.

The qualities that would define Miguel in the desperate hours in An Diem village began to emerge as he was a young man in and around North Omaha. He was fiercely loyal and had the reputation as a fellow who would stick by his pals in any situation. He was also brave and tough physically. One night he was confronted by a group of toughs. He was outnumbered, but Miguel refused to run and made it clear that he wasn’t afraid to fight them if it was necessary. They attacked him, but Miguel inflicted a surprising amount of damage on them, badly bloodying a couple of them. They quickly retreated, as bloodied also, he stood his ground.

There was never a question where Miguel was going. Not only was he going to join the Marines, but he was going to volunteer for service in Vietnam. On January 21, 1969, Miguel and a group of his friends enlisted. He began his Boot Camp at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego on May 2, 1969 and graduated on July 17th. He immediately attended combat infantry training at Camp Pendleton, and in September received orders to Vietnam.

As a Private First Class, Miguel Keith was assigned to Combine Action Platoon 1-3-2, which was quartered in An Diem village in Quang Ngai Province. He had volunteered for Combined Action Program, an innovative method of fighting the Viet Cong insurgency in the villages of South Vietnam. The program was built on trust. A Marine fifteen-man squad was assigned to live in a village. During the day, the Marines organized and trained the village militia to defend their village, taught school and helped with the rice harvest. The Navy Corpsman assigned with them provided medical care to the villagers. The Marines found that with proper training the militia were fierce and loyal fighters, and together the Marines and the Provisional Force were able to prevent the Viet Cong from preying upon the villages at will.

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Quick Facts

  • Service BranchMarine Corps
  • HometownOmaha
  • Home CountyDouglas County

On May 8, 1970, the enemy assaulted the village from all sides. LCPL Keith and another Marine were standing watch in the forward defensive position. They were the first targets of the attack and Miguel was wounded by shrapnel. They were able to repel the attack, and although badly wounded and bleeding heavily, Miguel checked the men in the other defensive positions. The enemy attacked again and in order to get a clear line of fire, he left the fighting hole and stood in the open with a machine gun and repelled two more waves before being wounded with more shrapnel from a grenade. He continued to fire on the enemy until most of them fled. As LCPL Keith attempted to return to the fighting position, a straggler shot him in the back. That was the wound that stopped the fearless eighteen-year-old Marine. LCPL Keith was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, on September 9, 1971.

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