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don sorchychVeteran’s Day Speaker
Blaine F. Keith

On Veterans Day Blaine Keith was invited to speak at the Boulders Veterans Day event. Although this denied his presence at the Carefree event, he couldn’t be at two events at the same time.

Blaine agreed to speak for thirty-five minutes. That is a long time for a ninety year old as he uses a walker and sometimes an electric chair to get around. But he still drives and does so very well. As one of the speakers said, Blaine’s memory is incredible and it is.

Editor's Note: My intention was to video the entire speech. Somehow it failed except for this brief part which can be seen below.

The event was at the Boulders Country Club and arriving shortly before 4 p.m. hordes of golf carts swarmed in and parked precisely in the area. Most carts had flags attached to the vehicles. Loud patriotic songs were played until the event began at about 4:45 p.m.

There was an outside bar with every adult beverage known to man as well as non-alcoholic beverages. There were tables of food that would satisfy a sultan.

The meeting was brought to order by Country Club and Golf Course General Manager Tom McCann. Woody Chamberlain introduced Blaine.

McCann read names of club members who have served, branch of service, rank, and in some cases a summary of their service. The last one drew laughter when a veteran was asked what he did in service and he said he won the war.

Then the audience sang the official songs of the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Air Force, U.S Navy (yay), U.S Marine Corps (yay for Blaine), and U.S. Army. Then it was Blaine’s turn.

Blaine took the stage and began with his childhood. He was raised on a Pennsylvania farm by his grandparents. His Uncle EC was a pilot, among other things, who took him on a flight at age ten. EC taught him to fly and Blaine soloed at age twelve. Blaine said although they got around on horse drawn buggies they owned an airplane.

He got his pilot certification at age seventeen and enlisted in the Marines with his grandfather’s permission. When the Marines recognized his flying abilities they accelerated his training and sent him to squadron #121, where he first met future Ace Joe Foss. After further training both he and Foss were sent to Guadalcanal, code named “Cactus.” Foss, at age 27, was the oldest and Blaine at age 17 was the youngest in Squadron #121. Blaine’s assignment was to provide support to ground troops, sink Japanese landing craft and bomb their ground positions. He discussed living in wet foxholes, the rampant dysentery, malaria, exhaustion and bug infestation. Code named “Cactus” while in Guadalcanal, in his first seven weeks he earned two top awards, Silver and Bronze Stars for his successes. The Silver Star was pinned on him by Vice Admiral William “Bull” Halsey who was second in command of the Pacific Fleet under Admiral Chester Nimitz who was the Commander of the Pacific Fleet.

Blaine moved forward through several islands and ended up in Okinawa anticipating a Japan invasion.

He became fond of President Harry Truman after he stopped the invasion, which would have resulted in enormous loss of troops and airmen, by use of atomic bombs. He also commented on the fact Truman told him he wasn’t surrounded by Secret Service when he drove home to Missouri with his wife when his term ended.

Blaine remained in the Marine Reserves and was recalled to fight in the Korean conflict.
In Korea he flew one hundred missions and earned a purple heart. An enemy infantryman shot through the belly of the plane and wounded his right leg. It still bothers him.

Between WWII and Korea he went to the War College and earned a Masters Degree in Aeronautic Engineering, Military Planning, etc. He then joined NASA for various projects – many of them classified. He mentioned some of them were classified with a Q rating and joked if he told anyone he would have to kill them.

He served as a test pilot and rapidly headed many projects. He became the head of the “Tiger Team” and was responsible for engineering, manufacturing, safety and, surprisingly, purchasing. He met and worked with most astronauts. There is little he doesn’t know about space vehicles, their makeup and their accomplishments.

He didn’t mention this but he went to law school in the evening and although he could have become a lawyer by taking state tests it made him an expert in contracts and related subjects.

The depth of his knowledge and skills caught the attention of Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company who wanted to expand beyond tires so they hired him to become manager of the Western region from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean.

After a life of stress he had a heart attack. The physician who treated him suggested he retire from stress after installing a metal heart valve. He told Blaine he had maybe 6 years to live.
Blaine and his wife Martha moved to Carefree in 1990. They built a house in which they and Martha’s twin sister Grace lived. All three joined Kiwanis. They worked extensively with the Kiwanis Flea market which kept them busy and committed and perhaps saved Blaine’s life.
Blaine mentioned he has been in five senior homes since Martha passed and said the one he is now living in, Grace Hill Ranch, is the best.

He also mentioned he is a 32nd degree Mason of 50 years and has helped many to join the Masons.

He belongs to the Desert Hills Presbyterian Church in Scottsdale, attends Bible study on Saturdays and church on Sundays when health allows.

Colonel Keith loves to talk to anyone about space and hates to spend much time on war. He is bothered about how his grandfather would take those adventures even though he passed years ago. He is a solid Christian and wants to live it in its fullness.

He has enjoyed his many speeches to school children but always emphasizes his years with NASA.