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|Willard Woodward Keith, Jr.|
June 13, 1920|
|Died||November 3, 1942
Killed in action at Guadalcanal
|Allegiance||United States of America|
|Service/branch||United States Marine Corps|
|Years of service||1939-1942|
|Unit||2nd Battalion 5th Marines|
|Battles/wars||World War II
*Battle of Guadalcanal
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 actions during the World War II Battle of Guadalcanal. Two cancelled United States Navy destroyer escorts and the destroyer USS Willard Keith (DD-775) were named in his honor.
Willard Keith was born in Berkeley, California on June 13, 1920. He enlisted in the United States Marine Corps Reserve on April 18, 1939 and served as an enlisted man 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.
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 to build up for the first Allied offensive in that theater — the Battle of Guadalcanal.
Promoted to captain, Keith led Company "G," 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines (2/5), from the initial phase of the Guadalcanal campaign. He landed with them at Tulagi on August 7, 1942. By that autumn, the campaign on Guadalcanal 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, the 2nd Battalion was assigned the left flank position.
Initial elements of the battalion crossed the Matanikau in rubber boats before dawn on November 3, 1942, supported effectively by dive bomber strikes, artillery, and naval gunfire. That afternoon, Captain Keith led his company against a Japanese strong-point that was entrenched on high ground and concealed by heavy jungle grown. The defending Japanese platoon was reinforced with heavy machine guns. Realizing that neither mortar nor artillery fire could reach the Japanese positions, determined to evict the Japanese, Keith initiated and led successive bayonet and hand grenade charges in the face of heavy fire. Although the Japanese platoon was annihilated, Capt. Keith was struck in the head by a bullet and killed instantly.
For his heroic actions, Captain Willard W. Keith, Jr. was posthumously awarded 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 Captain Keith, 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 and was in commission from 1944 to 1972.
- "Thomas D. Church Collection, 1933-1977". Online Archive of California. Retrieved 7 August 2014.
- "Willard Keith". Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Naval Historical Center, Department of the Navy. Retrieved 2005-09-29.