Monday, October 25, 2021

Visit to The Wall That Heals has Special Meaning to Marco’s Decorated Vietnam Veteran

Photos provided by Scott H. Shook | Marco Island’s Frank Keefer, second row, third from left, with Special Operations allies in El Salvador in the early 1980s. Keefer was 40 years old at the time.

Frank Keefer.

Marco’s Frank Keefer is a soft-spoken man, but he’s a war hero with two Purple Hearts who was offered a rare battlefield commission in the Marines during the Vietnam War.

The last time The Wall That Heals was on Marco Island, Keefer decided to visit. He has a number of comrades who are among those honored on the wall. But his memories of one of the soldiers are especially strong.

“There’s one very special friend on that wall,” Keefer said, referring to his best friend, L/CPL Stanley John Kopcinski, who is memorialized on the wall. But Keefer couldn’t believe what else he discovered on his visit to The Wall That Heals.

“A couple of years ago,” Keefer began, “they had the wall here. I’d served in Vietnam and my brother had served in Vietnam. We’d both been wounded. 

“I went to Vietnam with the first unit to go straight from the United States to a combat zone since WWII. We didn’t even know where we were going. They loaded us on the ship—I was in the Marine Corps. We went straight from the states to a combat zone. I didn’t know it at the time, but only about 10% of people in Vietnam ever saw combat. But if you were in an infantry unit, you stood a 100% chance of getting killed or wounded. And so, all the guys I enlisted with were killed or wounded. My unit of 1,100 men suffered 92% casualties. My best buddy was one of those.” 

Keefer and Kopcinski became best friends as enlistees in the U.S. Marine Corps. Visiting The Wall That Heals on Marco took Keefer back to when he visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. when it opened. 

“Once they built the Vietnam Wall, I visited it,” Keefer stated. “I wrote a letter and put a couple of pictures next to the wall. Well, there’s been a million mementos left there. They collect them and store ‘em. Archive ‘em someplace. Years went by and I went over to the traveling wall when they had it here a few years ago. They had a couple vans with mementos in there.”

Keefer’s voice cracked as he recalled the moment he saw his letter again. “Low and behold, my letter to Stanley’s family was in there. It was on display. And oh God, it looked like it was written by a second-grader. But… I couldn’t believe it. I talked to one of the curators and he said, ‘Yeah, those items will never be changed.’ He said they had three or four dozen different items that people had left by the wall. And for different reasons they selected them. Why mine was selected I’ll never know.

“I wanted to contact his family,” Keefer said of Kopcinski. “I thought about him every night. I would dream he was going on patrol. I would tell him not to go. And he would get killed. That was my Vietnam nightmare.

“We had served together in the United States before we went over. But when replacements come over, you just don’t become friends because it’s too painful when you lose them. You don’t want to go through that again. And I went through that when we first got there, and we started losing people that I had known for a year. The Marine Corps was like my first family. I had been on my own since I was 15. So, when I was overseas and we would lose these guys, they were like my first family. I had enlisted prior to the war with the intent of making it a career. And then when I saw what was happening, I said, ‘Man, I can’t believe I made it out the first time.’ After I got wounded a couple of times, I decided it might not be a good career choice. I ended up going back in, but I went into the Army. I was a Green Beret in the Army.

“I was 19 and 20 when I was in Vietnam,” Keefer said. “I went over as a squad leader—since we were the first unit, we had no combat experienced people. At least the guys who went over later had some people to show ‘em the ropes. For us, it was just hit or miss.”

Stanley Kopcinski was killed on May 14, 1966. He was 19 years old. Keefer has strong memories of Kopcinski.

“Stan Kopcinski was everybody’s best friend,” Keefer explained. “He was a Golden Gloves boxer, but you would have never known it. He was probably a bantamweight. 

“It was a command-detonated mine. He was a great guy. I don’t think of him every day anymore. It’s been over 20 years since I thought about him every day. I’ve only got two guys I served within the Marines who are still alive. And I think everyone I served within the Special Forces is gone. I had to make it for all the guys who didn’t,” Keefer said, his voice cracking.

“When I found out the wall was coming to town again, my wife said, ‘Well you oughta contact the local newspaper and let them know that a local resident has a memento in there.’ I said, ‘No, I’m not interested.’ She said, ‘You’ve gotta do it.’ I said, ‘No. I don’t need any publicity—I’m not interested in that.’ But she kept on me and on me. So, that’s how I contacted The Coastal Breeze. It’s nice that somebody local has something in there.”

Keefer comes from a Gold Star family, whose military roots run deep. Gold Star families are the relatives of US military members who died in battle.

“I’m a war orphan from World War II,” he stated. “My father died from injuries from WWII. We were declared a Gold Star family. He was in the Navy. His whole crew was lost. I’m a third-generation American. Both of my grandfathers were first-generation German-Americans. They were both wounded in France. My maternal grandfather was with the Army’s 29th infantry division. He was severely wounded. My paternal step-grandfather was shot through the arm at Belleau Wood—he was a Marine. He was lucky. He got injured the first day. They were infantry. I knew my maternal grandfather. He was like 60 when I was born. He was an incredible guy. He was on his own from a very young age. He rode on the rails like a hobo. He’d tell me stories from when he was little.”

After losing his father in WWII, Keefer and his mother, brother and sister went through hard times.

“I grew up on a tenant farm in Appalachia. We had a one-room tar paper shack. We moved to the city when I was about five. We never had indoor plumbing or electricity. We were tenant farmers. My mother did laundry with a washtub. We canned all our own vegetables. I had a great life. I don’t remember playing games, but we didn’t care. We were doing things. Whether it was helping collect eggs, plucking chickens, shucking corn, making our own soap. We loved all that. We took care of each other and loved it. The only thing I didn’t like was milking cows. Getting swatted in the head by a manure-encrusted tail. And that tail hurt! I didn’t think that was fun at all. Other than that, I liked it.

“At the time I had nothing to compare it to. I didn’t even know what a father was because there were no other kids around. And so, when I happened to have a chance to be with my grandfather, he was the only role model I knew.”

The Keefers then moved to inner-city Baltimore. 

“I never knew what a father was. I never knew what a toy was. I never knew what rich or poor was. I remember our first Christmas—in Baltimore. My brother and sister and I got an apple in a sock. My brother and sister were crying because they thought Santa Claus had missed us. Because we had moved to the city and saw all this stuff we’d never seen before. I told ‘em, ‘Hey, chill out, he’s visiting the poor folk this year.’ Because we had moved into a house that all you had to do is press a button and you had light. That was a new experience. You could turn a faucet and get water. I remember when I turned that faucet on for the first time, I just put my head under the faucet. It’s a wonder I didn’t blow out my stomach. I couldn’t believe I could get water that easy. So to me, Santa was visiting the poor kids. I thought we were rich. My sister tells that story all the time.”

Keefer’s mother was a strong woman.

“Ah, she was,” he recalled. “Incredibly tough. Her fiancé was killed by the Japanese. A few months later she married my father, and she lost him. The long and short of it was, she ended up burying three husbands. She was tough. She was tough to get close to—for anybody. She had that shell around her. I think we all do when we go through tragic losses. You don’t want to get close to anybody. And this particularly happens in combat. Because you start liking someone.” 

Keefer’s younger brother was injured seven times in Vietnam. Upon returning from his stint in the Marines, Keefer received frightening news about his younger brother.

“My brother was missing in action after I left the Marine Corps,” Keefer said. “He was in while I was in. He went to Vietnam. I think I was out of my first enlistment when he went to Vietnam. I enlisted in 1964. I was 18. In the Marine Corps rank was extremely slow. Not like it is today. It would take you two enlistments to make corporal. You had to have 10 years in to make sergeant. If you were in any kind of leadership position like I was, you were doing the work of an Army captain. So, I became an advisor to the Vietnamese. They said, ‘We’re changing your duties. Do you want to become a sniper, or do you want to work with the Vietnamese?’ I didn’t want to be a sniper out there by myself with one other guy. At that point in my military career, that was not my cup of tea. They cut those guys up when they caught ‘em. So, I said, ‘I’ll work with the Vietnamese.’ My brother was in the Army. He wanted to go into the Marines, but they wouldn’t take him because he had trouble with his knee. So he went into the Army. He was overseas. I can’t remember if it was his first or second tour. He’s deceased now. He was 100% disabled. He came back four times as a casualty. 

“I went to the Marine Corps and said, ‘Send me to the area from where my brother went missing.’ My chances of finding him were nothin’. But I felt like I had to do something. So they said, ‘We’d love to have you back, but you serve at the pleasure of the commandant,’” Keefer recounted with a laugh. “They offered me a battlefield commission in the Marine Corps, which is extremely rare. I declined it and got out. I later went into the Army and they immediately made me an officer. I guess I was about 24. I was in and out of the army for the next 11 years. I spent 6 years in the Marine Corps, active and reserve.”

A battlefield commission is when an enlisted soldier is observed as performing to a high standard and displaying outstanding leadership on the field of battle. It is a permanent promotion.

“My brother came back to the states. He had gotten himself out of the hospital and came back as a casualty. He was injured seven times. He was very bitter. He had a guy in his platoon that was some kind of a genius. He got killed, it was an accident, one of his own men. My brother was so bitter because he only had a sixth-grade education. He said, ‘This war is for people like me, not for people like him.’

“I got caught in a traffic jam going to the airport to pick him up. I was in a traffic jam going into the airport. There was a big crowd in the middle of the terminal at Baltimore International. The crowd’s cheering and everything. As I work my way through the crowd, I see my brother laying on the ground with crutches. Some woman had knocked his crutches out from under him,” Keefer said, his voice cracking, “this woman was kicking him and the crowd was cheering her on.

“I had a kid across the street from me who was killed in Vietnam. Parents were Johns Hopkins University professors. He was a year younger than my sister. He skipped a grade. Then he skipped a grade over her. Then he skipped a grade over me and graduated from Johns Hopkins when he was 18 years old. And he was killed. What a loss. It doesn’t make a difference if they come from a family of 10, it’s a loss.”

“I’m not gonna get out of here alive”

Keefer reasoned that he was pretty tough when he enlisted in the Marines. What he experienced was a real wake up call.

“In the Marine Corps they would put their hands on you,” Keefer recalled of his introduction to the Marines at boot camp. “When you got off the bus, they’d pick the biggest guy and punch him out. And boy, that set the mood for everybody.

“I thought I was tough when I went in,” he said, “until I found out what combat was all about. It’s a whole lot different than I thought it was going to be. Because once you’re dead, you’re dead forever.”

Going into battle was a scary proposition for Keefer—at least initially.

“I was terrified for about two months, but I couldn’t let it show,” he said. “Because I was a squad leader. If I let it show, the rest of the guys would be scared. And what they don’t know is that I’m just as scared as they are. I just can’t let it show. One day, in fact, it was shortly before the first time I got wounded. It dawned on me, ‘I’m not gettin’ out of this place alive.’ Once it clicked in that I’m not gonna get out of here alive—and it wasn’t a negative, pessimistic attitude, it was just math—my fear really went to the back seat and I focused on developing people in my squad to take over when I got killed. That was what I deemed my job became.”

Getting his charges ready to take over after he was killed became Keefer’s reality.

“Yeah, I became tough,” he said. “I knew I was going to get killed anyway. I could have stepped on a mine. I could have been killed by an accidental discharge—another Marine could have shot me by mistake. You never know. I figured, ‘I’m gonna go out, so I might as well do the best job I can.’ So that became my focal point. ‘While I’m here I’m going to be the best Marine commander I can be.’ I would check guys over to make sure all their gear was straight. I always lived out in the field. Except for major combat operations, we always operated in platoons of 20-25 people. Typically, a platoon is 45 men in the infantry. But because of attrition, there would only be 20-25 of us and we would be situated out in the countryside. We would patrol that particular topographical area. The real fact of the matter was that at any time if a major unit wanted to take us out, they probably could have. Because we were small and contained. Fortunately, I was never in that situation. Snipers would pick us off one at a time or two at a time, or we would get in gunfights once in a while. I went to Da Nang. That’s where I really got my leadership training.”

Frank Keefer’s war medals—including two Purple Hearts.

First Purple Heart

“My first Purple Heart I was injured by a grenade,” Keefer said. “We were at a place called Chu Lai, about 30 miles south of Da Nang. We set up a temporary runway. There was no barbed wire, no defensive position. They had big fuel bladders and they’d land A-4 Skyhawk jets and helicopters there. I got transferred in there as a squad leader—I didn’t know anybody.

“They said, ‘If you get attacked, you engage the enemy with fixed bayonets. You don’t shoot your rifles.’ Because they didn’t want to take a chance with those fuel bladders, which were the size of a bus going off. That’s crazy.

“One night I led a patrol. We came back after six hours and it was about 12:30. Rather than going right in and doing my debriefing report, I said ‘Let’s just take a break behind this berm.’ And we did. 

“Before we knew it, they started shelling us with mortars. I knew when the mortars stopped the assault would begin. Well, the assault began down at the other end where they had the planes and helicopters tied up. 

“They worked their way north, blowing up various bunkers and stuff on the way up. When they got up near our end, we were the only ones who could stop them from getting away. The voice came over the radio, ‘Fixed bayonets, engage the enemy.’ The amazing thing was that everybody went. And that was the first time I got wounded. 

“I thought, ‘I’ll never live through this.’ Because they were shooting and we just had fixed bayonets. And that’s when I realized, ‘I’ll never get out of here alive.’ I thought I was going to die that night. 

“I was wounded, the concussion was unbelievable. I probably would have been killed if it was a fragment grenade, but it was a concussion grenade—even though it did have some fragment in it. I had some wounds—I sucked up some metal. 

“I felt like a piece of paper that had been cut in half. Or like someone had slammed me against the wall. I was paralyzed. It was like when you were a kid and you were knocked on your back and it knocked the wind out of ya. Multiply that by about 1,000 times. Amazingly, I lived. But it was even before the attack, I thought I would never get out of there alive. And that thought remained with me.”

The event had a tangible effect on Keefer.

“I don’t think I did anything differently,” he said, “because I think I was conscientious. But my posture was much stronger. My attitude. Instead of saying, ‘Go get your rifle,’ I said—more sternly—‘Go get your rifle.’ It was just tonal. But the guys who knew me a lot called me Corporal Mother because I was like their mother. I would go around, give them extra magazines.

“We’ll be dead by sunrise. There’s no way we’ll get out of this.”

“I had a guy with me one night, he came out and he was new, and there were battles breaking out all around us. Harvey Barnum, the Commander, got the medal of honor that night. He was an artillery observer. All these places were being shot up. I was with this new kid. 

“As I was checking lines, he said, ‘I, I, I’m glad I’m with you. I know we’ll survive.’ I was thinking, ‘We’ll be dead by sunrise.’ And I truly believed that. I thought, ‘There’s no way we’re going to get out of this.’ 

“But we did, fortunately. We weren’t hit as bad. We got hit pretty good, but I’d pre-registered all the avenues of approach and when the bad guys were coming in all I had to do was call in and say, ‘Fire on targets one through ten.’ And the mortars did their job. So we made out. But I remember thinking, ’This kid doesn’t have a clue,’” Keefer said, his voice cracking, “and I didn’t tell him any different.”

Years later, when he attended the ceremony for the dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, Keefer met the soldier again. His story the soldier told him was shocking. 

“I ran into him years later and he tried to give me his Purple Heart,” Keefer said. “Back then you couldn’t give away that stuff. It was given to him by the government and I couldn’t take it. He called his buddy over and said I saved his life. I didn’t remember saving his life and I was embarrassed. I kind of ducked out the back door. I felt, ‘I don’t want this guy to think me saving his life was so insignificant that I don’t even remember doing it.’ But the fact of the matter is that I didn’t remember. And to this day I can’t. 

“If I had it to do over again, I learned that what I should have said was: ‘Things were so crazy that night. Tell me how you remember it.’ So, I thought about that for years. I’m sorry I didn’t get his number, but I was so embarrassed. I must have had a lot of stuff on my mind. And how I saved his life is beyond me. He said, ‘This purple heart cost me two feet of intestines. But if it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t be here.’ Now how could a guy get his guts shot out and I don’t remember? But it was so common when you’re in the infantry. You may go days and nothing happens and then BINGO. So it was boredom/terror. I never talk about this stuff.”

Second Purple Heart

Keefer lived in the field while he was in Vietnam. A shelter-half was his home—not a barracks. A shelter-half is a simple, partial tent designed to provide temporary shelter and concealment. Keefer recalled a time his squad was manning a river blockade. It led to his second Purple Heart.

“It was a river blockade,” he said. “What we would do, there were about 12 of us, we would stop these boats that were going up and down the river. And there was a village about 200 hundred yards to the west. It was flooded there all the time. My squad was manning a river blockade checking boat traffic for weapons or contraband. We slept under shelter halves near the rice paddies. There were no real defensive positions. This is just how we lived.

“I rose one morning and was standing in the open—it was all open. I felt a sting on my right hip and looked down to see my pocket area shredded and bloody. A split second later I heard the shot from a village hedgerow about 100 yards west. I threw the guy the bird and yelled in Vietnamese, ‘Close but no cigar!’ The literal translation was you don’t suck tobacco. Same thing. Big insult. All the men smoked—all the women chewed betel nut. Even the kids.

“Some of the new guys flipped and started running over to me. I told them he would be gone but if he saw guys bunched up he might take another shot. If his rifle sight blade would have been less than a hair over it would have been a mortal wound.”

Why would Keefer react as he did after being shot?

“Why would I stand as tall as I could and insult the sniper after he shot me? Easy. After being wounded in close-quarter combat, I had already accepted the fact that I wasn’t going to make it home and thought my death was on the back burner. Secondly, I was the leader and couldn’t freak out or it would have undermined the confidence of those in my charge. Thirdly—and most importantly—I couldn’t let the bad guy think I was intimidated, or he’d have been taking potshots at us at his pleasure. But insulting his manhood after being shot and not freaking out it was designed to intimidate him. ‘Who is this guy? Next time I shoot he may have this area targeted for mortars.’ Pure psychological warfare. Plus, my guys thought I was Superman. So they would be much more likely to perform to what they thought my expectations would be in a tight situation.”

Frank Keefer of Marco Island, right, receiving one of his two Purple Heart medals.

Harassment Stateside

For those old enough, memories of the poor treatment Vietnam veterans received upon returning home are still fresh. But hearing the stories firsthand can really make them hit home.

“When I got out I was scared to death to go to college,” Keefer said. “College became a haven for people who didn’t want to serve. I was 21 or 22. My grades in high school were awful, I barely made it through—but I worked all the time. It was work and go to school. I was supporting myself. I was terrified of going to college. But I knew that if I wanted any kind of decent job, I had to have a degree. 

“When I got out of high school you could get a decent job with a high school diploma. Because not many kids went to college. The more affluent kids did. I went to school in the city. The school was found in 1839, so there was a lot of tradition. It was a public school. All male. It was called Baltimore City College. It was like a 1930s Andy Rooney movie. That era came to an end during the Vietnam War because everyone was going to college to avoid the service.

“When I went to college the harassment was so bad because I was a Vietnam veteran. I got my degree from the University of Baltimore, which was about 50% working-class guys who were married with kids who were going to school part-time. Excellent school.

“The harassment was terrible. The students and the professors alike. And if you said anything all you were doing was indicating that they were right. Because everything was ‘Vietnam veterans are crazy and they’re liable to go off.’ You see, you couldn’t say anything or you reinforced their beliefs. They’d say you were stupid because you got caught in the military-industrial complex and stuff like that. I learned not to tell people I’d been in the military. I learned after a while, even applying for a job, that I couldn’t put down that I was in the military because they wouldn’t hire ya. A lot of this was fabricated in the media, saying that all these Vietnam veterans were nuts. Stuff happened all of the time. The abuse was terrible. So you kept your mouth shut. I never told anybody I served. It wasn’t worth the hassle.

“So I went through four years of college in two years and I graduated with honors. I went every day and every night, and I drove a cab. No party-time. These kids in school were cheatin’ on tests. I thought, ‘You have no honor at all.’ That was an unheard-of concept for me. I never missed a class. 

“I got out and sent out a bunch of resumes. I thought I’d be an easy candidate for a job. Standard Oil interviewed me for a job. He said, ‘I’d love to hire you but I can’t. You’re a Vietnam veteran.’ I said, ‘Then why did you spend four hours talking to me?’ He said, ‘We have a policy. It’s unwritten. But we don’t hire Vietnam veterans because we can’t take a chance on an incident.’ Whatever that means. I said, ‘Why did you talk to me then?’ He said, ‘Because I was a bombardier in Europe in World War II. And you’re the first guy I’ve talked to who had any sense.’ I finally got a job as a teacher.

After a couple of years teaching, Keefer returned to the military, entering Ranger school. 

“There were 210 in my class when we started and only 30 completed and only 21 graduated,” he said. So that’s 10%. I lost 60 pounds and spent six weeks in the hospital and graduated third in my class. I was 27. I needed a waiver to get in because they figure anything over 26, you’re too old. You’re carrying 100-pound packs and going up to your neck sometimes for 8-10 hours.

“I was in the Army and I finally resigned my commission, because I was a Special Operations Officer. I was a single parent at that time—I’d gone through a divorce. I had custody of my children, which was very unusual at the time. If I didn’t get ‘em I was going to take them and leave the country. Because being a parent was very important to me. Number one, I didn’t want to get called up having two kids. But as a Special Operations Officer, whether I’m on active duty or not, they can individually call me up, if I was under 60. They could send me to Afghanistan or Iraq right now if they needed a special operator. I did the same thing as Seals, I was a free-fall parachutist, a 4th-degree black belt in karate, underwater demolition. A Ranger. I did all that stuff. Which is fun when you’re a kid. But when you get to be my age, you realize you paid a price for it. 

“I had about 18 years of service,” Keefer reflected. “In six months, I could have drawn a retirement check. But I’d lie awake at night and I was terrified that I would be activated and have to kill some 19-year-old farmer’s kid. I didn’t want to do that. Because when I was in Vietnam, all we were doing was fighting other kids. If they’d of activated me then, it wouldn’t have bothered me. But having grown up without a dad, and now, possessing all these military skills, my chance of survival in combat against one of these other guys was way over the top. The chance of random death is always there. But I didn’t want to kill some 19-year-old kid. So, I resigned my commission. I didn’t want to kill anybody.”

L/CPL Stanley John Kopcinski was killed in Vietnam when he was 19 years old.

Captured by Double Agent as a 40-year-old in El Salvador

However, Keefer hadn’t had enough of serving his country. Approaching middle-age, he found his way to El Salvador.

“We worked down in Central America, and the democratic congress created the Boland Amendment.”

The Boland Amendment is a term describing three U.S. legislative amendments between 1982 and 1984, all aimed at limiting U.S. government assistance to the Contras in Nicaragua. 

“I had inside information on what was going on in Central and South America,” Keefer said. “They put a ban on putting U.S. troops in down there. I knew that they were using Soviet and Cuban advisors. I thought, ‘Man, they don’t want the military to go in there—we’ve gotta do something.’ So I went down and volunteered as a medic. I was in areas that were off-limits to the military, but I was a civilian combat medic. I was 40. I was still a single parent. I thought, ‘This is crazy.’ But I thought, ‘I’ve gotta do something.’

“My second tour down there I was captured by a double agent who took me out to shoot me and I ended up neutralizing that situation. I just knocked him out. He was a bad guy. He was an officer in the El Salvadoran army.”

Success Outside of the Military

Keefer went on to have great success outside of his military career, although he rarely stayed at one position for more than 2 years. He credits his business success to lessons he learned as a military leader.

“I never really worked a job for more than 2 years in my life. I figured I wasn’t getting paid what I was worth. I would move on. I always had a side business. So I was kind of entrepreneurial. But I’ve worked for seven multi-billion-dollar companies and a lot of smaller companies and typically what would happen is I would go in and straighten ‘em out and bring in the numbers. For whatever reason, they wouldn’t pay me commensurate with what I was producing. And I never had a problem getting a job. And in those days, people stayed with one job their whole life. I said, ‘I’ll stay as long as you pay me what I think I’m worth.’

“I worked for Johnson & Johnson, I worked for Revlon, I worked for three pharmaceutical companies, I worked in high tech, I worked at Phillips in North America, I worked for Motorola, I worked for Telecom. I was in advertising. I loved advertising. I worked at West Virginia Paper and Pulp. I managed the Master Card and Visa account in advertising. I did all the post offices. I did well. I got fired from my job. I got a new boss and within two weeks I was gone. I think he saw me as a threat. I was so bitter about that because I had two kids to raise. I was making plenty of money at the time and all of a sudden, I had no job. It took me a while because the economy was in the tank.

“In my personal life, I had one of the biggest sports aviation companies in the world. I did air shows. I was the number one dealer in the world for security parachutes. I loved that. I was on the UK-USA free-fall parachute team. I was the captain of that. We competed internationally. In 1999 I co-founded a business publication—I was President and CEO and within 1 year we were the number one publication on the newsstands. Ahead of Fortune and Forbes, Money and all of them. We were in 22 countries. We were in every airport. It was called Networking Lifestyles. Unfortunately, one of the principals was an attorney and he absconded with the money. My plan was to build the company and sell it to Time-Warner and stay on for a while. That company within 1 year or 2 years, they would have paid us $50 million—and that was back in 1999. Unfortunately, that was the same time as the Enron Scandal. I was going to send this guy to jail. They said, ‘Sorry, the amount of money he took doesn’t compare to some of the cases we’re working on.’ I said ‘Fine.’ I had friends who invested a lot in that. We did good, but to do that there’s a lot of graft that goes on in the publishing industry.

“I was never that smart or talented. My trick was I found good people and I took care of them. I learned that in the Marine Corps. The first rule of leadership is you feed the troops first. If you take care of your people, they’ll be with you forever.”

Keefer plans to visit The Wall That Heals when it comes to Marco Island, February 20-23.

“I’ll probably stop by,” he said. “I think it’s a good idea. A lot of people didn’t handle that abuse as well when they came back.”

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