The Back Story
by lyle e davis
Dick Keech has reached 88 years of age. For the second time in his life he is a prisoner. In the first instance he was a Marine, captured by the Japanese during World War II. He spent the rest of the war as a Japanese POW. During his 3 1/2 year incarceration he was beaten, tortured, and nearly starved. But he was young . . . and a tough Marine . . . and he survived.
Following the war he returned home, graduated from college, married, raised a family, worked for a number of years in industry before retiring. During that time he hadn’t so much as a traffic ticket on his record.
He lived a happy and active life in retirement until his life took another major turn. His daughter had married an Englishman. The husband turned out to be a violently abusive person, both verbally as well as physically. He abused Dick Keech’s daughter a number of times. Finally, she returned to America then divorced him. The abusive husband pursued her, continued to threaten her, and sought to gain custody of their only child. Eventually, he not only threatened his ex-wife, but Keech himself, and Keech’s family. Keech grabbed a revolver and shot the man dead. For this, he was ultimately convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to 35 years to life.
The Paper got involved. We thought Keech’s sentence was too severe, that he likely should have been convicted of no more than justifiable homicide. A number of critics and other observers of the Richard Keech case argue that Keech is guilty of protecting his family and that he was driven to kill another man in order to do so. We sought to have him released for time served. We first published his story on April 6, 2000. We revisited his story on January 15, 2004.
Richard Keech was many things. He was a Marine. And he was one stubborn Marine. In order to even have a chance to be released from prison he had to express remorse for his crime.
He wouldn’t do it.
If he would not try to help himself in gaining release, we recognized our efforts were in vain. The Paper, reluctantly, put this case away and turned to other things and Richard Keech continued to languish in prison.
His family did not put the case away. They continued to visit him, to write him, to encourage him. Most recently, Joan Page Spann Keech, Richard’s cousin, received these letters from Richard Keech’s children:
The Current Story:
In August, we visited my dad twice at CTC in HDSP. My dad is confused and withdrawn. He does not wear his hearing aids anymore because he wants to "cancel out the prison environment." The CTC environment is horribly isolating and dad is suffering because he wants to be around friendly people. He says that this experience is worse than being a Japanese prisioner of war. As a result, my dad is giving up and dying.
The on-call doctor told us last Sunday that the CTC medical staff had initiated the paperwork for a compassionate release from prison.
As usual, we are always hopeful that my dad can die at home.
(As of today, no news about the compassionate release.)
And then this very moving letter to Richard Keech from his very proud son:
Have you ever read the book "dead zone" by Steven King? I'm not usually a Steven King fan, but I like this one book. The thing about the book is its theme. The book is all about the definition of the word "hero."
The protagonist of this book knows something terrible is going to happen. Everybody he loves is going to die, his lover, his child and his friends. No one else in the world perceives this tragedy. As a matter of fact, most people are unwittingly helping the tragedy to occur through inaction.
The protagonist knows he can stop this tragedy, but only at a cost. The cost is enormous. His act of stopping this tragedy requires that he become infamous and despised, his death being only a minor sub note.
Steven King's point and the theme of the book is that a real hero doesn't perform for money, fame or glory. A real hero does it because it's the right thing to do ... and no one else is available.
I have read about many heroes in my life, but I've met the only real one, that is of course my dad. Most people assume their father would do anything to protect them. I'm just one of a few who know the fact for certain. My dad set a high standard. I can only hope if I'm ever as tested that I can meet my fate unswervingly and without hesitation.
Other real heroes I've read about and treasured are: Oskar Schindler - German businessman ... a con man, a womanizer and a racist most of his life... but for a brief few years he put the Vatican to shame and saved
Eduardo Propper de Callejón - First secretary in the Spanish embassy in Paris who stamped and signed passports almost non-stop for four days in 1940 to let Jewish refugees escape to
Spain and Portugal.
Chiune Sempo Sugihara, Japanese Consul-General in Kaunas, Lithuania, 1939–1940, issued thousands of visas to Jews fleeing Poland in defiance
of explicit orders from the Japanese foreign ministry. He just thought it was the right thing to do, never realizing that he was a hero. He never considered mentioning it. His children were as surprised as anybody when the Jews he saved finally traced him down and heralded his deeds.
You know what amazed me as a child? It was your tolerance. You had all the reasons to despise the Japanese. They put you through a death march. They beat prisoners to death in front of you. They starved you
nearly to death. You weighed 97 pounds when you returned from World War II. Yet despite this treatment you didn't hold it against the Japanese people themselves. You said it was just a thing of the Japanese military culture. We even had a Japanese exchange student when I was kid.
You know what else I learned from you? I learned integrity. I remember how if you discovered you had been overpaid when you got home from the grocery store you would always make the trip back to the grocery store to pay it back no matter the amount.
I remember when we sailed our boat, "Trident," to Mexico. The Port offices were closed because of holidays and we returned without checking in with the authorities. You had no choice; you had to get home or lose your job. You drove back to check out even though you faced some intimidation from the Port Captain who thought you illegally sold your boat in Mexico.
There were some other gifts you gave me. You told wonderful bedtime stories, stories about Goofy and Donald Duck. You gave me a love of books. You introduced me to my first science fiction author, a Robert
Heinlein story about a boy in a spacesuit. You encouraged me to be an engineer and go to college. You set up projects that would keep me entranced and in the scientific world, usually with things that went "boom."
You trusted me. I remember when I went on my first date I didn't have a driver’s license... I was 18 and my first date was to the prom. I just couldn't have a parent drive me to the prom... and in that day and age it never occurred to me to rent a limousine. It just wasn't done. You had a solution though. I could drive the car. You even offered your treasured Corvette Stingray. When I told you that I only had my drivers permit, you only said "you better drive carefully then." I valued that trust.
You taught me about duty, particularly in the way you treated your dad. Your dad was the very anti-thesis of fatherhood. His only pride was in what he was able to deny himself, from coffee and sweets to women and sex. His only achievements were fathering two kids and reaching 89 years old. When grandpa died no one but his two children even noticed the lack of a funeral. Despite granddad's failings, you took care of him as he got older (and grandma too). I still remember granddad railing at you at how poor Rockwell stock was doing ... and blaming you for it. This he did while you're trying to get the heater in his house working. You took his ranting and other than suggesting that he sell the Rockwell stock, you quietly went about your work.
You frequently said that you learned most of what was to be a man through Montana cowboys and the Marine Corps. By Montana cowboys you meant Uncle Wesley, a rancher turned Congressman. I remember your story about a hay rake. Uncle Wesley had just bought a new one, an expensive one ... probably about 12 years salary of an average rancher. Your mother sent you to Montana for some protection from your father during the summer. Uncle Wesley gave you the rather simple job of running the hay rake through the field, simple for a country raised boy. He assigned his son Bill to teach you how to drive a team of horses. You were a city boy after all. You learned and were able to shakily drive a team of horses in open field. However, to get to that field you had to drive through a gate just wide enough for the hay rake itself.
Unfortunately, the hay rake caught the edge of the barbed wire fence. The panicked horses pulled down the fence for several lengths and, of course, damaged the hay rake. When both you and Bill showed up in front of Uncle Wesley, you thought you'd be sent back to California in shame.
Uncle Wesley listened to both of you and said "Bill will fix that hay rake. And then Richard might as well finish the job.”
Uncle Wesley put you back out on the field in the expensive hay rake. The other ranchers joked about him because the horses got loose another five times more that summer and tore up more fence. It became a bit of a running joke among the other ranchers, but there was an underlying respect to the laughter. Uncle Wesley just kept on putting you back on a rake. Uncle Wesley considered his nephew's self-respect more
important than the expensive piece of farm machinery. I'm sure it helped get him elected, to see the sort of care he took into the welfare of a nephew.
Your cousin Bill became quite the mechanic. When World War II came then the men that took care of horses went off to war. The horses had to be replaced with machinery. Cousin Bill was foremost in the ability to kludge vehicles with equipment and get things running despite the lack of men and horses, a lesson he learned that started with fixing up hay rakes for dad.
I remember your story about how you learned to respect women. You said you used to tease your sister, Virginia ,unmercifully, perhaps lessons you may have learned from your dad. Your cousin Bill took you aside and taught you in no uncertain terms that men, especially Montana cowboys, do not treat women disrespectfully. It was a lesson you never forgot.
You taught me about bravery. I remember you told me once you went in the Montana ranch forge searching for a fishing weight. You found a bullet and put it in the vice to remove the brass casing. As you twisted the vice the bullet went off. It ricocheted and hit you near the eye. You went to the only person in the house, your grandmother, everyone else being in the field working. Your grandmother was a stiff upper lip sort of Englishwoman. She asked you not to cry as she cleaned the wound out ... because it would disturb the men folk when they came back. You said you couldn't. She said "then pretend, and perhaps after a while the lie will become the truth."
Perhaps you're wondering why I'm rambling on like this. I couldn't help noticing a few things last I visited you. You had forgotten Nancy's previous visits, though she visited five times this quarter. You forgot you have received any letters, though a stack was found in the drawers. I suspect if you check your drawers you will find letters you have never read. The nurse puts them in a drawer and tells you... but I suspect you forget.
I am losing you. I'm afraid I've waited too long to tell you I love you. I should have told you this a long time ago so it would be a long-term memory. Anyway, I love you. I will miss you. Other people remember their father by visiting graves. I will remember my father by recounting his stories, making my own stories and trying to pass on the lessons, stories and love of books I have learned from him.
Your children have all college educations and a love of reading. Your grandchildren will have college educations and a love of reading. Your great-grandchildren will have college educations and a love of reading. All will hear the stories and details of Richard E. Keech, until you pass into family legends.
You always collected crossroads. You defined a crossroads as a place where if you stay there long enough you will meet everybody you ever knew in life. You mentioned one crossroads, a bar called Joe Jost’s. I fear it's been torn down but … I remember the one promise you had me make.
When you die, I will find a crossroads... one that's a bar ... probably one filled with Marines. I will buy rounds for anybody who will drink three toasts with me.
The First will be to our country and the men who fought for it.
The Second will be to the Marine Corps, to loyalty and duty.
The Third and last toast will be for my Dad, a US Marine, a husband, a father … a hero.
Afterwards, I will recount your stories to anybody who will listen.
Steven Richard Keech