Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Paying Tribute to Our Veterans by Julie Mayle, Associate Curator of Manuscripts

 Julie Mayle, Associate Curator of Manuscripts
Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library & Museums

My interest in military veterans was sparked in 2008 while interning in the Manuscripts 
Department at the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library and Museums.  I was given the opportunity to create a collection comprised of my father’s letters, photographs and other memorabilia that he had kept from his service in Vietnam with the Marine Corps.  While processing the material, I discovered a cassette tape that he recorded while stationed in the village of An Diem Hai, South Vietnam.  The recording took place almost one month after his platoon was overrun with an estimated 150 Viet Cong soldiers.  During the fight, a fellow Marine, LCpl. Miguel Keith, was mortally wounded while defending the compound.  

LCpl. Miguel Keith became the 53rd Marine to be awarded theCongressional Medal of Honor in Vietnam due to his heroic action on May 8,1970. Hearing my dad’s voice at the age of 19 and while fighting for his country, served as my inspiration to do something more.  With the help of Nan Card, Curator of Manuscripts, the Northwest Ohio Veterans’ Oral History Project was created in 2013 at the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library and Museums. The purpose of the project is to collect, preserve, and make accessible the personal recollections of American war veterans through personal narratives, correspondence and visual materials. Currently, we have interviewed nearly 40 veterans for the project. 

On a more personal note, I recently had the honor of participating in the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Funds Reading of the Names at the Vietnam Wall in Washington, D.C. The Reading of the Names took place at The Wall for 65 hours over a four-day period beginning with an opening ceremony on Tuesday, November 7, 2017.  My reading time slot was scheduled for November 10th at 4:14 p.m.  Each participant is given a group of 30 names to read and among my list was the name of Miguel Keith.  My dad rarely spoke of his war experiences during my childhood, but I know that Miguel’s name and memory are never far from his thoughts. 

To see the video go to this link:

I arrived early to deliver a personal memento from my father to Miguel’s spot on The Wall.  Somehow, knowing that in a few hours I was going to read his name aloud, gave that quiet moment special meaning.  As dusk began to fall, I took my place among the readers.  I tend to get a little nervous when speaking in public, but for some reason I was very calm.  I just had this overwhelming feeling that this was something I had to do…because it was the right thing to do.  

LCpl Miguel Keith
Medal of Honor Recipient

It was an experience that I will never forget and one that I struggle to find the right words to describe.  I’m also grateful to my husband and several family members who made the trip to Washington, D.C. in support of this experience.  Although there is no tribute that can truly match the magnitude of military service and sacrifice to this nation, it’s important for every veteran’s experience to be told. This was my small contribution to keep these names and stories alive.