Harper Brown Keeler
Died 30 January 1969 in Vietnam,
aged 33 years
Interment: West Point Cemetery, West Point, New York

"TIME, LIKE AN EVER ROLLING STREAM,
BEARS ALL ITS SONS AWAY."
-Isaac Watts, 1719, based on Psalm 90

"Hop" KEELED DIED as he lived, in the mainstream of life, always seeking the fastest water. In his short thirty-three years he accomplished more than most men who live their three score and ten to "... spend our years as a tale that is told ... for it is soon cut cut off, and we fly away." -Psalm 90:9-10.

Harper Brown Keeler went down in flames on the night of 30 January 1969, doing what he felt was his duty. No man has taken his oath to uphold the constitution of the United States of America more conscientiously than he. His brief lifetime was a masterful orchestration of roles as a son, soldier, scholar, husband, and father.

Harper Brown Keeler was horn in Galveston, Texas, on 9 August 1935, while his father was serving in the Coast Artillery at Fort Crockett. Although his father was a Connecticut Yankee, he proudly adopted his motherís Texan heritage and faithfully drove render its banner throughout his career. As the middle of three sons, he learned to compete at a very early age, a feat which stood him in good stead throughout his lifetime. A true descendant of the Long Gray Line, he took his first steps at another Coast Artillery post later to achieve its own niche in history, Fort Mills on Corregidor Island in the Philippines. His formal education began at West Point where his father, later a Brigadier General, USAF, was teaching mathematics. As a youngster his typical dirty little boy vigor - a legacy left to his two sons a generation later - kept him involved in whatever was going on. His father once remarked to his mother (shortly after a change of station): "I have just seen the saddest sight I ever saw, Harper Keeler walking all alone." This was truly a rare occasion for a boy who walked through life with a host of friends.

Hop completed his elementary education in Washington already destined to be a leader. Although the school officials wanted someone else to captain the school patrol, his classmates would have no one but Hop. Both this class and his graduating class chose him as their president. He won additional honors as the schoolís top athlete. One of his trophies most valued by his family was his first, won at this time, as "Outstanding Sportsman and Player in the Junior Night Basketball League of Anacostia."

Following World War H, when his family was living in England, he attended St. Paul's School in London for two years. This was a formidable experience, but he prevailed and completed a form known as Geography VIII, which later proved to he a fine background for his doctorate. Over six feet tall at fifteen, he demonstrated his continuing athletic powers on the school tennis team. His accolades included the Best Colt (under sixteen) trophy in track, followed by the most valuable team member the following year. Although somewhat dismayed by the lack of basketball in England, he quickly transferred his skill to the local environment and earned his "colours" as a third rugger in their own game. By the time he graduated from high school in Frankfurt, Germany, his academic and athletic achievements were better known and he was selected as the Best Basketball Player in the European Command, 1953.

When the big transplanted Texan dropped his bags on 3 July 1953, he had overcome a personal struggle with high blood pressure that threatened to keep him out of West Point. Hopís cadet days are well documented. (Off the record are the hilarious letters home, setting forth life with such characters as Julio, Jerry, Waxey, Huck.) Roommates, company-mates, teammates, and classmates all join in their praise of his camaraderie and leadership. His generous donation of time to those less academically inclined did not detract from his outstanding academic achievements and his stars. As a first classman he commanded M-2, maintaining the hallowed traditions of M Company. During June Week 1957 he received the award for the Outstanding Company Commander.

Upon graduation, after another struggle with the medics to join the Air Force, he took a former London school friend, Gail Lautzenheiser, recently of Cornell, as his bride and announced "off we go." His roommate prophetically wrote in 1956, "For him success was inevitable."

After six months of pilot training in Florida, he returned to his native Texas, where lie won his wings and Gail presented him with Susan Rebecca two days after she completed a round of golf. Whenever you wanted to find Hop you looked either toward the center of activity or out in front, his usual position. Greater evidence of his potential soon became apparent to both his peers and superiors. His first assignment to a squadron took him but thirty miles from Texas to Oklahoma where he spent five years learning his profession, raising his family, which now included two sons, Harper Brown Jr., and Michael Ross, while maturing into what one commander called "the only potential general officer I've ever known."

An avid reader and student of the world, Hop was sent to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to study Political Science prior to a tour at the Air Force Academy. While there, he excelled and was selected to continue for his Ph.D. After the degree was awarded in June 1966 he taught Political Science for two years, delighted with his chosen profession, doing a superb job because he loved life, people, and particularly youth. He sought to teach by giving of himself unselfishly. After his death, a cadet that had won a coveted Rhodes Scholarship commented, "No one person ever influenced my life so much."

The conflict in Southeast Asia concerned him, and he felt it was his duty to make his professional contribution. During the summer of 1968 he volunteered to enter combat crew training. He completed training in RF-4C Phantoms at Shaw AFB, South Carolina, before proceeding to Saigon in December. On his thirteenth mission, he was shot down near Nha Thang, South Vietnam, on a night low-level reconnaissance mission.

Major Harper Brown Keeler was buried at West Point on 19 February 1969, amid a congregation of friends and his family. One of his comrades who knew him well wrote: "He was a man full of love and courage, and life is stale without him ..."

His enthusiasm and determination are gone but his spirit remains as an inspiration to those who carry on. lie shared this characteristic with his wife, an inseparable part of a team, who continues to espouse his unending faith in mankind.

-G. D. H.

 

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