Feb. 6, 1925 — Dec. 28, 2017
Spurgeon Keeth was born in 1925 to Henry Vee Keeth and Beatrice (Andrews) Keeth in Iberia, Missouri. He had an older brother, Regan Kenneth Keeth, and a younger sister, Wanda Lee Keeth.
Tragedy struck the family in 1931, when dad was just 6 years old. His mother was killed when her car became stuck on railroad tracks, and was hit by a train. In 1932, grandpa placed dad and siblings in the care of Whittle relatives in Iberia, and moved to the Yakima, Washington, valley to acquire steady agricultural work to support his family.
In 1934, dad and his siblings reunited with their dad in the Parker Heights area of Yakima Valley. Dad and Uncle Regan were extremely close, and stories I’ve heard indicate that they were quite the mischievous pranksters growing up, to say the least.
In May 1941, at the young age of 16, dad joined the Army. On Dec. 7, 1941, dad found himself right in the middle of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, stationed at Schofield Barracks. He also fought for our freedom at Vella Lavella, Guadalcanal and Munda, and contracted malaria 13 times. He was a heavy machine gunner, expert carbine, combat infantryman. Dad was with Company B, 35th Infantry, 25th Division.
Dad talked very little about the war, but did share with my husband, Scott, that on one of the islands the wild monkeys were as vicious as the human enemy.
Another story was when dad’s group was being slaughtered as they were being dropped off at the beach, dad was the point man. He hung over the side of the amphibious vehicle, dropped into the water and floated until he discreetly approached the beach, and let the enemy’s bunker have it with every grenade he was carrying. Others followed suit … another mission completed! At Munda, his unit was surrounded by the enemy for 19 days, and they lived on one can of C rations per day until the siege was over.
Dad also served as a Merchant Marine.
After his honorable discharge in 1945, he returned to the Yakima Valley and married Ruby Keith in 1946 in Wapato, Washington. Their first son was born in 1947, followed by another son and two daughters. Mom and dad didn’t even have a car when they got married, but dad always worked hard to provide for his family.
Under the G.I. Bill, he went to Perry Trade School in Yakima, Washington, for one year to acquire the skill of body and fender repair of vehicles. He worked nights at Snyder’s Bakery, and got to take home leftover bread and pastries, which resulted in eating lots of sandwiches! A brief body and fender job in Spanaway, Washington, did not work out, so back to Yakima Valley they went, to pick apples.
Dad had a “silver tongue,” and talked his way into a job that didn’t even exist at Wapato Irrigation Project, a federal job. He convinced Henry Holmes they needed a body and fender guy to maintain their fleet of vehicles and equipment. He acquired additional mechanic duties, and eventually retired as shop foreman in 1980.
In the early 1950s, they paid $800 for a home in Vancouver, Washington, that had to be moved. Dad, mom, young son, and dog, Pal, spent many months back and forth from Wapato to Vancouver taking the house apart, marking each board as to where it went for when he reconstructed it on a rural lot in Wapato that they bought for $500. The home was reconstructed and livable in time for my arrival in 1954.
Dad then seized the opportunity to purchase an old gas station garage from downtown Wapato, and moved it to the property, where he did a lot of mechanics, body and fender work on his time off from his regular job. Dad was amazing! There was nothing he could not fix, and he was very resourceful and creative.
He found time to coach pee wee baseball, and everyone on his team was allowed equal play time, regardless of their athletic skills; he was a very fair man. Weekend family camping trips during the summer were very common. Dad loved to fish, and hunt, and he hunted elk until he was 80.
After retirement in 1980, he stayed busy with volunteer work, as a part-time school bus driver, he drove a straddle truck during fruit harvest, and was a fan of us kids’ City League softball games and grandkids’ activities.
Scott and I were blessed with dad’s arrival to our Hammond, Oregon, home in October 2015 after mom could no longer care for him in Wapato. By this time, he was in advanced stages of Alzheimer’s/dementia, and had very restricted mobility and speech, requiring 24/7 care, which hubby and I were delighted to accommodate. We gave him our all, and he was a very happy man, confirmed by his ongoing infectious smile that touched everyone he met.
This wonderful community in which we live embraced and loved my dad beyond comprehension, and made him feel special. Camp Rilea adopted him, and took him under their wing; words cannot describe how they touched his life.
Regardless of his restrictions, I told him often there’s nothing we could not do, and by golly, we had a blast the last two years! The three of us were scheduled to go on the Honor Flight to Washington, D.C., for World War II veterans in September, and he was so excited to fly in plane again. But dad started failing, and we had to cancel, and he began hospice in November.
I heard my tired Papa take his last breath at 7 a.m. on Dec. 28, 2017, as he slept peacefully here at home. Final mission completed, sir. Thank you for being my dad, my BFF.
Please join us in honoring and celebrating his life, with full military honors, on Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018, at noon, in the Log Conference Center at Camp Rilea Military Training Center.
This obituary was written by Donna Barnett, Keeth’s daughter.