A local veteran couple reflects on time served, celebrates their 60th anniversary

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VETERANS VOICES (WMBB)–Some may call it fate. Two people who never planned on making a career out of the military, going on to fall in love at Fort Hood, Texas.

Bill and LaRue Keller both served in the Vietnam War, collecting a lifetime of stories and ‘firsts’.

“My roommate at Fort Hood met LaRue and her girlfriend the first week they were there and her girlfriend wouldn’t go out with him unless LaRue went, he talked me into going and a year later we were married,” said Bill Keller.

Sixty years later and the two soul mates are both decorated veterans, with many achievements under their belts.

“We went from Hood to Korea to Rucker and from Rucker to Vietnam,” Keller said.

Bill was a pilot with top-secret crypto and intelligence clearances, flying classified equipment all over Korea.

LaRue also worked hard as she created the first course for licensed practical combat nurses.

“One day she got a call from the hospital commander and he said ‘pack your bag we’re going to Fort Bragg’, got up there and they had standardized her criteria for training as the standard for the special forces,” Keller said.

But her achievements didn’t stop there.

“LaRue opened up the first neurosurgical ward, she was Chief Nurse of the first neurosurgical wards that were established in Vietnam,” Keller said.

Bill was also accomplished, helping to create night vision goggles that were crucial in the Vietnam War.

“All the green that you see on television these days, that’s night vision goggles and when I was in combat developments in what was it, early ’70s, the thing was ‘those who ruled the night ruled the war’ and the night vision goggles were done at that time,” Keller said.

The Keller’s were nothing short of pioneers, and that didn’t end on the battlefield.

“We literally broke the codes for other women. Our son was the first child born to an active-duty female that was allowed to stay on active duty,” Keller said.

After bravely serving their country for decades, the couple returned to the United States and now call Panama City home.

“She retired a Lieutenant Colonel and I retired as a Major because I mouthed off a couple of times when I probably shouldn’t have,” Keller said.

But their experience serving the United States wasn’t always appreciated.

Like many returning Vietnam War veterans, they faced harsh judgment day in and day out.

“It got bad enough that after our second tour that people were allowed to come home in civilian clothes,” Keller said.

The bad treatment followed them for years to come.

“We didn’t talk to anybody here in the states for 30 years…We only talked to ourselves, we talked among other people that we knew, we just carried on normal stuff, we never said anything about Vietnam,” Keller said.

Decades later and the impacts of the war are still lingering.

“The worst on PTSD were young kids, got drafted, went to Vietnam 2 years, came home, got out and had nobody to talk to. Nobody understood, nobody…they’d probably get jumped on if they said anything,” Keller said.

Despite the hardships brought on by serving in Vietnam, Keller has no regrets about his and his wife’s service to their country.

“Lord no, I’d go back tomorrow if it was needed. And so would all the people I worked with.”

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