Local American Legion Member Receives National Recognition

Heroics of Secret Vietnam War ‘Black Operation’ Revealed

Rick Langenberg

A life-long member of Cripple Creek’s American Legion Post 171, and a highly decorated Green Beret hero, is finally receiving his well-deserved national acclaim regarding one of the best-kept secrets of the Vietnam War. 

These heroic acts still amaze fellow veterans and area students and residents. They were once praised by former President Ronald Reagan, who commented that the story would rival any of the movies he starred in.  

Keith McKim, who lives in Teller County, and is a frequent speaker at veteran memorial ceremonies locally, got a standing ovation and national media attention during comments he made at the American Legion National Convention in  Charlotte, North Carolina in late August. 

“Keith McKim stepped to the podium at The American Legion National Convention with a pretty impressive military résumé, and completely mesmerized the crowd with his account of a heroic act that the government wouldn’t recognize for years,” according to an article in the American Legion publication, authored by Steven Brooks.

A Green Beret during the Vietnam War, McKim earned both a Silver and Bronze Star, as well as the Purple Heart. But based on Brooks’ recent article, “the life member of American Legion Post 171 in Cripple Creek, Colo., didn’t want to talk about himself. Rather, he wanted to share the story of the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam – Studies and Observations Group (MACV-SOG), and, in particular, a Medal of Honor recipient who served in it.”

“The stories I write and tell are about the extraordinary men of MACV-SOG. SOG was the best-kept secret of the Vietnam War,” McKim said, during the convention. “So secret, it was labeled a black operation, meaning its very existence was … even denied by the United States government. This top-secret unit existed for only eight years. During that time, it established tactics that are still in use today. And in the eight years of its existence, it garnered 10 Medals of Honor for the Green Berets. Twenty-three SOG men received the Distinguished Service Cross. Most SOG medals were downgraded by at least one degree in order to keep attention away from their top-secret operations – operations conducted across the fence. That is to say, across international borders into Laos, Cambodia and North Vietnam.”

According to McKim’s account, which has been  told at a variety of local forums, solders joined SOG on a volunteer basis. “Only the best were chosen,” he said. “Most soldiers, including most Green Berets, did not volunteer when they learned of SOGS’ high-risk missions and high casualty rates. SOG teams operated alone, deep behind enemy lines.”

Based on the recent American Legion report, McKim noted that the last Medal of Honor recipient of the Vietnam War was a SOG soldier, Loren D. Hagan. Another SOG soldier, Robert L. Howard, earned the Medal of Honor but was nominated two other times – both for actions while in Cambodia, where the United States was fighting covertly.

At the convention, McKim shifted his focus over to another SOG soldier, Medal of Honor recipient Roy Benavidez, who was credited with saving the lives of eight men while suffering 37 bullet, bayonet and shrapnel wounds. He was actually thought to be dead and was placed in a body bag before he spit on the attending doctor to alert him that he was alive, according to Brooks’ article in the American Legion publication, Benavidez was originally denied the Medal of Honor but was presented with it in 1981 after a witness emerged to his heroics.

“This is a story of a hero,” McKim said at the national convention. “President Reagan said on the day he awarded the medal, ‘If this was a movie script, you would not believe it.’’

“Roy Benavidez is a hero and an inspiration to those of us who are in this fight to save our nation,” stressed McKim.

This is a story that McKim has frequently told local audiences, including a crowd of students at a Veterans Day gathering in the Cripple Creek/ Victor RE-1 School District. Like the reception he received at last month’s national convention, the audience was in awe of the heroics exhibited by Benavidez and members of this program, along with the bravery of McKim and his humble attitude towards what he accomplished.

McKim regularly speaks at a variety of local veteran functions.