A tribute to Greg Keller, KIA July 18, 1970
Greg “Killer” Keller or “Buddha” — actually the “Killer” nickname came out of Greg’s tremendous ability in high school wrestling. He cut his hair very short at the end of high school when all he could talk about was being a Marine and going full tilt toward what he thought would be a long career with this top rate branch in the military. I believe his Marine comrades applied the “Buddha” nickname.I first met Greg in 1964. That summer my Father was job-transferred to the Los Angeles area. We wound up moving to the southern edge of Whittier, Calif. It was hard to relocate from friends I had known all my 14 years in San Diego where I was born in 1950. I was to attend Rancho Canada Junior High that fall for 8th grade.
Greg was one of the first guys I met in the neighborhood and he was elated to see me and I likewise to see him. Greg and I had a great summer before the start of school and teamed up with another buddy, Norm Kepner, to always be in minor trouble fighting, wrestling, breaking a few windows with hardballs — typical 14-year-old male stuff.
The 8th grade flew by and we were all so busy with sports that the time disappeared and we seemed to start our high school careers a week after 8th grade. Greg was already into wrestling, where he could let out his boundless energy and take out his natural aggression toward his competition. For Greg was a 5-foot-7 block of power and feared nothing.
You might understand that I did not always hang with Greg as I was 6-foot-3 — a lanky 170 pounds — and wasn’t as warrior-like. Plus I thought the sport of wrestling was senseless — only my opinion at the time. Greg made me realize it was about intangibles like heart and soul and never giving an opponent an inch. I realized it even more as a 185-pound sophomore. Greg, who wrestled at 148 or 158 pounds, took me to the cleaners when I challenged him to a friendly match. He destroyed me in less than a minute. I knew then this guy was a serious dude.His wrestling career was a good one and I actually thought he would take it to college, but he had other thoughts. As an All Conference wrestler he was 4th or 5th in the state and had great ability, but he was not heavy into more education and college was an option he would not choose.
Most of us were heading off to college and getting our 2-S deferments (Registrant deferred because of activity in study). The 2-S deferment meant “NO NAM” and was good if you didn’t flunk out of college. If you did flunk out, then you would be going to Viet Nam if you got a low number in the draft lottery. Mine was 43 — very low. Greg didn’t even consider any option but enlisting with the Marines and being in the action in Vietnam.
I can recall him in mid-year 1969, telling us what his plans were and I told him that I had much different plans for myself. My Dad had been transferred again and in the summer of 1969 I would move again but only after I graduated with my classmates of course — including my buddy Greg Keller.
Our high school was Lowell High in La Habra, Calif., and coincidentally we were called the “Patriots,” befitting Greg all the way. From a real personal view Greg was intense, but compassionate, extremely honest, dated but no steady girl because he didn’t have the time, playful, loved to play gags on people, religious, loved his Mom and sister and other brothers … parents were divorced.
One of the last days before I left Southern California, Greg and I said good-byes with a man’s hug where he about squashed me. And of course I never thought that would be the last time I would ever see him alive. One of my first thoughts when I had heard he was KIA was anger. I was mad as hell at him, the Marine Corps … all involved. I later came to the understand that this was Greg’s choice and what he wanted to do. It certainly seemed unfair at least due to his age (19) and his COMMITMENT to enlist and make the Marines his career.
As I look back now, almost 30 years after his death, I can now say his death bothers me more now than it ever has, only I do not know why. I have spent the last two months searching and searching to finally find Roch Thornton who touched him as he was dying July 18, 1970, in NAM. I have grown to understand and accept things that cannot be changed.
Greg’s Mom cherished this good son — his death destroyed her — and I know she is thinking about him as we near the 25th year of the fall of Saigon. I have no answers as to why I have been on this mission except that maybe I needed to say goodbye to him in this tribute. Greg was a friend who only wanted to do the right thing. Even though gone from earth, he remains and stays in my heart.
I believe now I can say, with a tear, that I loved this man’s ideals and his commitment to his country, whether or not it was a politician’s war. I can only say to all the men who served in CAPs, you are all very special people and indeed deserve more recognition.
Greg Keller, I still miss you — your friend Larry Herman, San Clemente, Calif., just a couple “clicks” from Camp Pendleton. Maybe since I drive by and see the “kids” in training, I still see you out there too.
July 18, 1970
A deadly lapse in security