This is a most difficult editorial to write. Blaine Keith is my best friend and yes I know his soul is alive. He is now in God’s hands with nothing to confess. Even at age 93 he attended bible studies at his church every Saturday when he was well enough to travel. And thanks to that Christian group who were always there for him.
I could write a book about the many stories he told. You know that he learned to fly at age 10 and was licensed to fly at age 17. So he joined the Marines and was sent to Guadalcanal with the famous ACE, the legendary Joe Foss, fighting Japanese.
Blaine was assigned to protecting ground troops and shooting landing craft full of Jap troops.
He noticed that Foss, after he downed a Jap plane, would place a decal on the fuselage of his plane. So after successfully downing and sinking several landing craft he got some chalk and was placing symbols on his plane when Foss asked him what the hell he was doing. He explained whereas Foss only shot one at a time he killed scores in landing craft. Foss agreed and said that they would stop calling him “kid” and call him “killer” instead.
That did not set well with Blaine because it wouldn’t set well for his grandfather to accept “Killer” to describe his grandson. Having been raised by his grandparents he adopted their Christian attitudes in all things.
While in Guadalcanal he earned bronze and silver stars. These sought after awards must be earned and the Silver Star was awarded for exceptional bravery. Blaine noticed a hidden Jap troop ship masked by trees. He came up with the idea of drawing their fire to allow a torpedo plane to sink it. The idea was approved and he drew their fire allowing another brave pilot to fire a torpedo and sink the ship. Blaine said since it was a joint operation he got the Silver Star award and the torpedo plane pilot got a Bronze Star award.
The Guadalcanal battle was difficult for health too. Since they were regularly bombed sleeping was often in foxholes which resulted in dysentery. Sometimes it was so disabling other sites with medical facilities were used.
His World War II activities were well covered in his Obituary.
But after graduating from the War College he was recalled to fight in the Korean Police action. It is interesting that retired General Snyder and he fought in Korea.
Blaine led a group of aviators near the Chosen Reservoir. The reservoir was frozen but they couldn’t take off. Across the reservoir Chinese troops on horseback were beginning to cross the frozen reservoir when General Snyder flew at them and literally mowed them down. This action gave Blaine’s men time to destroy their planes by pouring gasoline in the cockpits and lighting the fuel. This left them with the prospect of climbing a mountain to join Marine ground troops. The mountain was cold and slippery and Blaine still suffered with result of frostbite with no feeling in his feet. They arrived near the top and were challenged by Marines. Blaine spoke of begging to be allowed to the top and not shot. They were finally saved and sent to various hospitals to recover.
Blaine earned his Bronze Star by bombing a strategic bridge using a maneuver he had learned from his Uncle Easy. The bridge was surrounded with Korean troops making it impossible to get over the bridge. Blaine dropped low and released his bombs against supports causing its collapse. Although he won a Bronze Star for his strategy, he also earned a purple heart because a Korean infantryman shot him in the right leg through his fuselage when he was so low. The former wound still bothered him.
Blaine continued his heroics after his war hero status. He became a test pilot and accidentally became the first astronaut in space. That incident fell under Q security and had a 50 year limit on disclosure.
And his Tiger Team status for NASA was a huge promotion. Having conquered his military career, his test pilot career and now his NASA career he retired from the Marines and became the head of Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company’s Western Region.
In 1990 he had open heart surgery to replace a heart valve and was told he had six years to live. But the doctor apparently didn’t know Marines.
Blaine moved to Carefree and built a house for his beloved wife, Martha.
He joined Kiwanis, already he was a busy Mason and helped countless people to become Masons. He quietly was used as a guest speaker at dozens of schools. Kids always wanted to hear about his war experiences but he guided them to his NASA experiences and taught them “space” talk. He never failed to hold the pot for Salvation Army.
Blaine lost his house when his wife died and he began life in six different homes. His health was tended to by Mayo. He became known as the tough old Marine but his brain never gave up. When he told stories he remembered dates, time, names, everything.
Once the Mayo doctors were discussing whether he could take the problems of surgery of his colon. He asked for the odds and was told 20 percent. He said those were good odds and suggested they proceed. When the doctors demurred he called them chickens. There after the Surgeons entered his room flapping their arms and saying cluck, cluck!
The doctors resected half his colon and Shari Jo and I went to visit him. There he was in his surgical gown with his butt sticking out while he programmed his CPAP machine only hours since his operation.
One tough Marine!