Vietnam Medal of Honor Recipient Leonard “Len” Keller, 62, died at Sunday afternoon in after being critically injured in a motorcycle accident only minutes after being honored at the U.S. Navy Fleet Reserve Association in Pensacola Florida.
Sergeant Keller was cited for heroic action in May, 1967 when his unit was assaulted by superior enemy forces near Ap Bac, South Vietnam.
Police reports indicate that Keller was thrown from his three-wheeled Harley Davidson after leaving the association’s parking lot.
A two-tour Army veteran, Keller had recently retired after a 28-year career as a civilian in the supply unit at Pensacola Naval Air Station.
Captain Bill Reavey, commanding officer of Pensacola NAS, called Keller's death "a national loss."
"Len was a very humble guy. What he did was just amazing," said Reavey, who spoke at Keller's retirement party in December. "If you met him and then you read his citation, you'd never know it was him. What he did was super human. He saved numerous lives that day."
Keller’s citation indicates that:
"Sgt. Keller quickly moved to a position where he could fire at a bunker from which automatic fire was received, killing one Viet Cong who attempted to escape."
"Leaping to the top of a dike, he and a comrade charged the enemy bunkers, dangerously exposing themselves to the enemy fire."
He then charged a second bunker, killing all occupants, and then attacked five more bunkers, neutralizing all remaining enemy resistance.
"During their furious assault, Sgt. Keller and his comrade had been almost continuously exposed to intense sniper fire as the enemy desperately sought to stop their attack," the citation reads.
His ammunition exhausted, Keller returned to his platoon to assist in the evacuation of the wounded.
We didn’t know Len really well, but he was quiet, reserved, of good humor and was enjoying his retirement when I spoke briefly with him last month in Chicago at the Medal of Honor Society’s annual convention.
Recently retired, he good-naturedly accepted the ribbing from his fellow Recipients after adopting a longer hair style and a beard after almost 30 years working aboard Navy Air Station, Pensacola.
The ranks of the Recipients are more familiar than most of us about the random nature of Death, but among their dwindling numbers, each passing is a grievous loss.
We stand at 94.