Cpl. Keith Connors wanted Vietnam but ended up in Puerto Rico during hitch in Marines in ’69

Keith Connors of Alameda Isles Mobile Home Park, Englewood was still in high school when he quit and joined the Marine Corps. He wanted to fight in Vietnam.

“I signed up right after my 17th birthday. I ended up in Parris Island, S.C. (Marine Boot Camp) on April Fools Day 1969,” the 66-year-old retiree recalled. “I was taking advanced infantry training at Camp Lejeune just before my 18th birthday when they called me in and gave me orders to go to San Juan, Puerto Rico. I was upset and didn’t want to go.”

What was worse, the 180 “Leathernecks’ in the barracks with him in Puerto Rico had all served at least one tour in Vietnam.

“It was considered a choice duty station after Vietnam. I was the only non-Vietnam vet in the barracks during that period,” he said. “At first they didn’t trust me. They thought I was a spy or something.

“Most of our time was spent on guard duty. We worked as guards on the post’s main gate. We also guarded the admiral’s home at night.

“We worked hard and we worked a lot of hours. We were inspected every day so we had to keep our uniforms and our rifles in tip-top shape.

“A ship came into port and I picked up this guy who just got off the ship. I asked him what he did and he told me he was a band leader and he was going to start a drum and bugle corps from the guys in our barracks. I told him I didn’t play an instrument. He looked and me and said, ‘You’re a big guy. You could play the base drum.’

“I told him I didn’t think so.” To that he replied “if you can march you can play the base drum.’ He was right. That’s what I ended up doing playing the drum in his drum and bugle corps. We traveled all over those islands down there playing for funerals and other gatherings where a small musical group was needed.

Much more to Connors’ understanding, he was part of a championship football team in the 10th Naval District that remained undefeated during the two years the served in the islands.

“We played the Navy, Coast Guard, and FBI football teams and beat them all,” Connors said. “I was the center for our team.

“During the time I was in Puerto Rico I met this Marine who had served two tours in Vietnam—26 months over there —and survived without getting hurt. He fell in love with a local bar girl we knew. He wanted to marry her. We tried talking him out of doing something like that.

“It wasn’t three weeks after their wedding he was getting ready to go out on guard duty with me when he came in our barracks pretty well upset. He had just found his new wife with another guy. We tried to control him but we couldn’t. He was out there on guard duty when I watched him pull his .45 pistol, put it in his mouth and blow his head off.

“Another Marine and I were given the duty of cleaning up the death scene. We burned the dead Marine’s uniform in an empty 55-gallon oil drum. His clothes were pretty messed up with blood and brains all over them. We also got a look at pictures of the dead man.

“A few days later his former wife came in our barracks to collect her $15,000 in death benefits. I couldn’t believe she was going to do this because it was her fooling around with another guy that caused him to kill himself. It was very upsetting.

“That night I went to the club and she was here with another sailor from Vietnam. I was very upset and started yelling at her because she had the nerve to come to out club and party with another guy. A couple of my buddies dragged me out of there and took me downstairs as the club was closing.

The girl and the sailor came down stairs right were my buddies and I were and I started on her once again. The sailor same after me and stabbed me in the chest with a screwdriver. It didn’t go in all the way. It hit my sternum and stopped.

“I hit the sailor in the face with my fist and broke out most of his front teeth.

“The next day our sergeant-major told me to report to him at his office in my dress uniform. In the Corps he is like a god, Connors recalled.

The sergeant-major asked my sergeant about the condition of the sailor I hit. “He’s pretty bad, he’s in the base hospital,’ he was told.

“I thought for sure I was going to be sent to the brig at Gitmo. That’s where you went if you screwed up down there.

The sergeant-major asked me my side of the story. I told him exactly what happened. There I was standing in front of him in my dress uniform waiting to be see what they were going to do with me.

The sergeant-major looked at me and said, ‘Corporal Connors I’ve got one thing to say to you, Marine!’

“Yes Sir,” I replied.

“‘Good Work, Marine!’”

After Connors was discharged from the Marine Corps he joined the ranks of Pratt & Whitney Aircraft were he worked as a maintenance engineer for decades before resigning and starting his own home improvement business.

At the same time he re-upped in the Air National Guard. He was part of its engineering department. His unit built runways, roads, buildings, and towers all over the country. He did this part time for more than 30 years.

Conners and his wife, Sherry, have four children: Lisa, Amy, Brian and Greg.

Name: Keith Henry Conners
D.O.B: 28 Dec 1951
Hometown: Springfield, Mass
Currently: Englewood, FL
Entered Service: Hartford, CT on 1 April 1969
Discharged: 9 Dec 1971
Rank: Corporal
Commendations: Good Conduct medal, National Defense Service medal

This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, May 28, 2018 and is republished with permission.

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