Here’s a post-Memorial Day story that illustrates the sacrifices made not only by our service members each day, but also the families of those who serve.
It’s the remarkable account of the late Col. Richard Keirn, who retired from the Air Force at age 75 and who served in two major wars — World War II, when he was called “Kid,” and Vietnam, when “Pops” became his moniker.
That’s remarkable in itself, but what makes his story truly noteworthy is that in each conflict, his aircraft was shot out from under him and he became a prisoner of war.
“In Germany he was treated like a prisoner of war under the Geneva Convention, but in Vietnam he was treated like an animal,” said his son, Steve Keirn a Tampa resident, according to MyFoxTampaBay.
He described how his father was starved, his fingernails pulled and his shoulders dislocated by a bizarre hanging ritual.
“Then they’d hang him from a beam and hang him by his elbows and just let him hang there for hours at a time,” Steve said.
Steve wasn’t yet born when his father’s B-17 was shot down in 1944 over Europe and he spent 11 months in a German POW camp. Twenty years later he was 13 when the F-4 Phantom strapped to his dad was hit by a North Vietnamese surface-to-air missile and he spent the next 8 tortuous years as an NVA POW.
At that time, Steve and his mother were told that then-Captain Keim was killed in action. Three months later they learned he was being held as a prisoner of war.
Perhaps the best day of Steve’s life came when the war finally ended and his father returned home.
Steve’s voice broke with emotion as he recalled that “My mom bought a red carpet that ran from the front door, all the way out to the street.”
Keirn went to Vietnam weighing over 220 pounds. He returned at 125 pounds. Over two wars he had been awarded five Purple Hearts along with numerous other medals and high honors. He would remain in the Air Force, attending the war college and retiring as a full Colonel.
He died at 75 and was laid to rest on Memorial Day with full military honors and a special fly-by of Air Force jet fighters. Before he died, he wrote a book called “Old Glory Is the Most Beautiful Of All,” detailing his experiences.
The torture endured by Keirn’s family was different in kind, but no less acute, than that braved by the captain himself.
“I relentlessly watched my mother pray on her knees for my father,” Steve said.
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