FORT HOOD, TX- More than half a century after retiring from the military, a Vietnam veteran received a long-awaited presentation of three medals inside III Armored Corps and Fort Hood headquarters here, 14 July.
Retired 1st Sgt. DW Kieff, now 95 and residing in Harker Heights, Texas, with his wife Linda, retired from the Army at Fort Lewis, Washington in January 1969. At the time of his retirement, he had never received the Republic of Vietnam Service Medal. , nor the Bronze Star Medal he earned in 1967. His Korean Service Medal, or mention of his tour of Korea, was also missing from his retirement discharge form, or DD 214.
It took about eight months of digging for members of the U.S. Army Garrison – Fort Hood Human Resources Branch, but they were finally able to set the record straight and present those overdue honors. III Armored Corps and Fort Hood Deputy Commanding General Christopher Beck presided over the ceremony, telling Kieff and more than a dozen of his family members in attendance what an honor it was to be able to be part of the event.
“Our veterans weren’t honored the way they are today at that time.” says Beck. “For those who serve today, … we know that we stand on the shoulders of individuals like you, and we thank you for this service. We owe you a debt of gratitude and thanks for your service to this great nation. 1st sergeant. Kieff, although it has taken over 50 years to recognize your achievements and dedication, I am extremely honored to be here today and to present you with these well-deserved medals.
“Usually if you don’t get those awards before you retire from the military, you’re thrown into a ditch,” Kieff said ahead of the medal ceremony. “I have a son-in-law who is a retired lieutenant-colonel in the army. He went to work on it, and here we are today.
Retired Lt. Col. Richard Ward, Kieff’s son-in-law, worked closely with Deborah Melendez, Human Resources Assistant in Separations at the Fort Hood Transition Center. Melendez said through her research, while source documents existed for the Republic of Vietnam Service Medal and Bronze Star, it took longer and she contacted Patrick Air Force Base, in Florida, the Executive Custodian of Korean Service War Medals, and the National Archives. , both in St. Louis and Washington D.C., to establish Kieff’s Korean Service Medal.
“The trip was absolutely an honor,” she said. “And meeting a few times, when he came into the office, made me even more motivated to keep going and make this all happen for him.”
Official confirmation from Kieff’s Korean service came just the day before the ceremony, Melendez added.
Kieff’s granddaughters helped Beck present his service medals. Brianna Wilson joined the general in presenting the Korean Service Medal, while Katie Driver joined him in presenting the Republic of Vietnam Service Medal. Beck then placed Kieff’s long-awaited bronze star medal around his neck.
The irony of losing medals for so many years did not escape the retired first sergeant, who has dedicated his career to helping soldiers.
“I took care of my soldiers, but it happens,” Kieff said. “I feel very good. At least you won’t get something after you leave. That makes it very different.
Kieff, who joined the army in 1949 as a carpenter, remains very proud of his 20 years of service in the Army Corps of Engineers.
“My entire career, except for 23 months, has been in construction engineering battalions,” Kieff said. “During those 23 months, I was in Fort Lee, Va. (with) the Post Engineers.”
Members of the 36th Engineer Brigade, led by Col. Anthony Barbina, attended the event to support and congratulate their fellow engineer. They took a group photo with Kieff after the ceremony to commemorate the moment.
After the medals were presented, Ward presented Kieff with a wood-framed American flag, then joined him in presenting Melendez with a bouquet of red roses thanking her for her hard work and dedication on behalf of First Sgt. retirement.
“(It’s) an honor,” said his boss, Mike Redwine, head of the transition center. “She did a great job.”
Melendez said the final step in the process will be to issue a DD 215, a correction to Kieff’s release document.
“Today,” she says, “we have the privilege of righting that wrong. If someone asks me, I will do it every time.