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Willard Keith

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Willard Woodward Keith, Jr.
Born(1920-06-13)June 13, 1920
Berkeley, California
DiedNovember 3, 1942(1942-11-03) (aged 22)[1]
Killed in action at Guadalcanal
AllegianceUnited States of America
Service/branchUnited States Marine Corps
Years of service1939-1942
Unit2nd Battalion, 5th Marines
Battles/warsWorld War II
*Battle of Tulagi
*Battle of Guadalcanal
**Matanikau Offensive
AwardsNavy Cross
Purple Heart
Combat Action Ribbon
Presidential Unit Citation

Willard Woodward Keith, Jr. (June 13, 1920 – November 3, 1942) was a United States Marine Corps officer who was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross for his heroic leadership during World War II in the Matanikau Offensive of the Guadalcanal Campaign. Two cancelled United States Navy destroyer escorts and the destroyer USS Willard Keith (DD-775) were named in his honor.[2]


Keith was born in Berkeley, California on June 13, 1920. He graduated from Beverly Hills High School in 1937. He attended Stanford University in the class of 1941. He joined the United States Marine Corps Reserve on April 18, 1939 and served in the enlisted ranks until he received an honorable discharge on November 3, 1940 to take an appointment as a 2nd lieutenant in the Reserves on the following day. He attended Marine Raiders training.

Keith was called to active duty on February 20, 1941, and served "stateside" until his unit was transferred to the South Pacific in the spring of 1942 during the build up for the first Allied offensive in that theater — the Battle of Guadalcanal. He was with the first unit to land on Guadalcanal for the battle, initially serving on the staff of the commander of the landing party, then being assigned to the assault forces of the ground combat element.[3] He landed with the Marines at Tulagi on Solomon Islands on August 7, 1942 during the Battle of Tulagi toward the end of the Japanese Tulagi campaign. His unit then became part of the invasion force of the Guadalcanal campaign.[4]

Promoted to captain, Keith led Company G, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines in the initial phase of the Guadalcanal Campaign. By autumn, the campaign was still a hard-fought one. In an offensive aimed against Japanese artillery positions sited beyond the Matanikau River and within range of the important Henderson Field airstrip, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines was assigned to the left flank position.

During the November offensive, a period known as "Critical November" to the allied forces for its importance to the larger campaign in the Pacific theater, the Marines launched a coordinated assault using air, ground and maritime forces against a Japanese stronghold at Kokumbona.[5] On November 2, during the Fourth Battle of the Matanikau, the Marines pushed the Japanese forces to the beach near Point Cruz.[6] That afternoon, Captain Keith led his company against a Japanese strong-point that was entrenched on high ground and concealed by heavy jungle growth.[7] The defending Japanese forces were reinforced with heavy machine guns.[1] Realizing that neither mortar nor artillery fire could reach the Japanese positions, determined to evict the Japanese, Keith initiated successive bayonet and hand grenade charges in the face of heavy fire.[8][9] The Marines under his leadership continued the attack and drove the Japanese forces from their stronghold.[10] Although the Japanese forces were annihilated, Keith was struck in the head by a bullet and killed instantly. During the battle, he was interred near the Matanikau River and he is listed as unaccounted for.[11] Later, Colonel Merritt A. Edson, the commander of 5th Marine Regiment and recipient of the Medal of Honor, said he took pride in the type of leadership displayed in Captain Keith.[10]

For his heroic actions, Captain Willard W. Keith, Jr. posthumously received the Navy Cross for a "grim determination and aggressive devotion to duty" in keeping with the "highest traditions of the naval service." The 1st Marine Division (Reinforced) – of which the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines was a part – received the Presidential Unit Citation.


The destroyer escort USS Willard Keith (DE-754) was named for him, but was cancelled during construction in 1943. Another destroyer escort, USS Willard Keith (DE-314) then was named for him, but in 1944 also was cancelled during construction. Finally, USS Willard Keith (DD-775), an Allen M. Sumner-class destroyer, was named in his honor as a recognized war hero.[12] The destroyer was in commission from 1944 to 1972.

The "Willard Memorial Terrace" garden was dedicated to him in the Main Quad at Stanford University.[13] The Captain Willard W. Keith Detachment of the Marine Corps League in Beverley Hills, California was named after him.[14] There is also a memorial for him at the Manila American Cemetery.

See also[edit]

Other articles of the topics Biography AND World War II : Welton Ralph Abell, William T. Hanna, Floyd B. Parks, Edwin Pepping, Stephen C. Ananian, Arthur Harvey, César Luis González

Other articles of the topic Biography : Amir Karara, Neldon Theo French, Ceno (rapper), Frankie Segarra, Ijaaz Ebrahim, Wole Oni, Adam Montrézor

Other articles of the topic World War II : Edgar R. Bassett, Myles C. Fox, Richard L. Cevoli, Boone Guyton, John Joseph Gilligan Jr., Jack Mason Gougar, Woodrow Wilson Barr
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  1. 1.0 1.1 Commanding General, First Marine Division. "Final Report on Guadalcanal Operation", Phase V of report, July 1, 1943, Annex P: Fifth Marines, First Marine Division Record of Events, pages 9-10. Note: report says actual date of death for Captain Keith was November 2, 1942.
  2. "Destroyer Keith, Named for City Hero, Launched", Los Angeles Times, volume 63, August 30, 1944, part I, page 12.
  3. "Capt. Keith Killed in Action", Pasadena Star-News, volume 27, number 234, page 1.
  4. Hollywood Citizen-News, volume 33, number 209, November 30, 1942, page 9.
  5. Hugh, Frank O., Ludwig, Verle E. and Shaw, Henry I. Pearl Harbor to Guadalcanal: History of U. S. Marine Corps Operations in World War II, Volume I, Historical Branch, G-3 Division, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, pages 341-44. Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 58-60002.
  6. Pearl Harbor to Guadalcanal: History of U. S. Marine Corps Operations in World War II, Volume I, page 345.
  7. Merillat, Herbert Christian-Laing. The Island: A History of the First Marine Division on Guadalcanal, August 7–December 9, 1942, Zenger Publishing Company, 1979 (originally published in 1944), page 191. ISBN 9780892010677 Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png..
  8. "Destroyer Keith Commissioned", San Pedro News Pilot, volume 7, number 255, San Pedro, California, December 28, 1944, page 2.
  9. Navy Cross Award Citation for Captain Willard W. Keith, USMC, United States Secretary of the Navy, signed April 23, 1943.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Hoffman, Jon T. Once a Legend: "Red Mike" Edson of the Marine Raiders, Presidio Press, 1994, page 229. ISBN 9780891414933 Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png..
  11. Muster roll for G Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, November 1942.
  12. "Late Captain Honored in Destroyer Ceremony", Los Angeles Times, volume 64, December 28, 1944, part I, page 6.
  13. "Thomas D. Church Collection, 1933-1977". Online Archive of California. Retrieved 7 August 2014.
  14. Southwest Blue Book, Gloria Berry Duthie, 1951, page 116.


This article incorporates text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships.
  • "Willard Keith". Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Naval Historical Center, Department of the Navy. Retrieved 2005-09-29.

External links[edit]

  • Willard Keith at Find a GraveLua error in Module:WikidataCheck at line 23: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).

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