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Pearl Harbor survivor William Keith dies at 95

In a December, 2016 file photo, Pearl Harbor survivor Hospital Corpsman 1/c William J. Keith is presented a challenge coin by Command Master Chief Ed Kay, assigned to Naval Health Clinic New England (NHCNE), during a ceremony to commemorate Keith's service and the 75th anniversary of the attacks on Pearl Harbor.

JAMES E. FOEHL/U.S. NAVY

By THE PATRIOT LEDGER Published: February 7, 2018

QUINCY, Mass. (Tribune News Service) — William Keith, 95, one of the state's last survivors of Pearl Harbor, died Tuesday morning at the VA Hospital in West Roxbury after a short illness.

"Dad died peacefully this morning," his son, Steven Keith of Milton, said Tuesday night. "He had been in and out of the hospital and always fought to come back home, but this time, he got pneumonia." He had been married to his wife Barbara, 89, who lives in Quincy, for 72 years. He leaves three sons and four daughters, one of them adopted.

William "Bill" Keith, who would have turned 96 on April 7, went into the U.S. Navy at age 19. He was just out of boot camp in December 1941 on the USS West Virginia when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor Navy Base on Dec. 7. He was able to open a hatch to get off his ship and get on shore as a number of torpedo destroyed the ship. Of the West Virginia's crew of 1,441, 106 were killed in the attack.

The family is still working out final funeral arrangements with the Lydon Funeral Home in Quincy. A service will be held next week at St. Chrysostom's Episcopal Church at 1 Linden St. in Quincy, with burial at the National Cemetery in Bourne.

Bill Keith was believed to be one of just three survivors of Pearl Harbor in Massachusetts, his son said. There is also a survivor in Brockton, 96-year-old George Hursey, and another in the Western part of the state.

Keith came from a family with a tradition of military service. He served in the U.S. Navy from 1941-1945 and survived intense battles, but once he was back home in Marshfield, he didn't speak about his wartime experiences. His children just knew him as a Dad who was very quiet, always working and devoted to them.

He worked at various jobs including as a school custodian in Marshfield and was known for his gentle kindness.

When Keith retired in the 1980s, he suddenly had time on his hands and wartime memories and nightmares on his mind.He began to have a series of illnesses and some 15 years ago, a psychiatrist at the Brockton VA Medical Center diagnosed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

He was declared 100 percent disabled, joined a support group and began meeting with other combat veterans and visiting former soldiers who were alone. He also began talking to his family about his war years.

In recent years he attended several events honoring Pearl Harbor survivors in Boston and Braintree. Gayle Marcella, his oldest daughter, said then, "He's very proud to be one of the few survivors left."

Two of his sons, Steven and Paul, served in Vietnam, in the Marines and the Army respectively, even though one could have been excused. The family is included in the book, "Brave Men, Gentle Heroes," where author Michael Takiff presents stories of men who served in World War II and of their sons who served in Vietnam. "When we three sat down to be interviewed, all of us heard stories we never heard before from one another," Steven Keith said. That is when the family learned many of the details of Keith's WWII experiences.

He was last interviewed by The Patriot Ledger this past December on the 76th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor bombings.

"People shouldn't forget," said Keith, sitting in his apartment at the Brookdale Quincy Bay Nursing Home.

Some members of his family gathered with him on Sunday to watch the Super Bowl, even though he was too sick to really watch or remember it.

©2018 The Patriot Ledger, Quincy, Mass.
Visit The Patriot Ledger, Quincy, Mass. at www.patriotledger.com
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