Maj. Gen. Keith Ware, commander of the 1st Infantry Division, was killed in action on Sept. 13, 1968, during the Battle of Loc Ninh, when elements of The Big Red One engaged a reinforced North Vietnamese Army regiment on Hill 222. According to the citation for his posthumous Distinguished Service Cross, the Army’s second highest valor medal, Ware knew that the NVA had anti-aircraft weapons on the ground but ordered his helicopter to fly at low altitude despite the risk to allow him to pinpoint enemy positions and more effectively coordinate the battle. Although his aircraft repeatedly took fire from the ground, Ware continued his low-level flight while directing the battle. Enemy fire finally brought down the helicopter, killing all eight men onboard.
Ware was an extraordinary officer and no stranger to infantry combat. Born Nov. 23, 1915, in Denver, Ware began his Army career at age 25 upon being drafted in July 1941. He completed Officer Candidate School the following year and by late 1944 was a lieutenant colonel commanding the 3rd Infantry Division’s 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment. On Dec. 26, his battalion was attacking a strongly held German position on a hill near Sigolsheim, France, when one of his companies stalled in the face of heavy enemy fire. Ware moved alone more than 150 yards in front of the American line and for two hours reconnoitered German positions, purposely drawing their fire so he could pinpoint their position, much like he did in Vietnam 24 years later.
Returning to his company, Ware grabbed a Browning automatic rifle and advanced against the Germans. He was accompanied by two officers, nine enlisted men and a single tank. He personally assaulted four machine gun positions and destroyed them by directing the tank fire. Wounded, Ware remained in command as his units arrived and finally occupied the German position. He was awarded the Medal of Honor the following April.
After World War II, Ware remained in the Army. He earned a degree from George Washington University and taught psychology and leadership at West Point. In 1963 he was among the first World War II draftees to attain the rank of a general officer. After being promoted to major general in 1966, Ware was assigned to Vietnam in 1968 at his own request.
He initially served as deputy commanding general of II Field Forces, headquartered at Long Binh and responsible for U.S. military operations in Saigon and surrounding areas.
On the first day of the communists’ 1968 Tet Offensive, as fighting in Saigon and its Cholon district threatened to spin out of control, II Field Force’s commanding general, Lt. Gen. Fred Weyand, sent Ware to take charge of the battle. Task Force Ware became operational at 10:55 a.m. on Jan. 31, 1968. Saigon was finally cleared on March 7. Ware’s leadership in that battle earned him a promotion to commanding general of the 1st Infantry Division.
Ware was the first U.S. Army general officer killed in action in Vietnam and the only Medal of Honor recipient since World War I to be killed in action in a subsequent war. His story parallels that of the fictional Sam Damon, the hero of Anton Myrer’s classic war novel Once an Eagle. Damon was awarded the Medal of Honor in World War I and killed as an adviser in “Khotiane,” the novel’s allegorical name for Vietnam. Keith Ware personified the term “Fighting General.” V
David T. Zabecki is editor emeritus of Vietnam magazine.
This article appeared in the August 2020 issue of Vietnam magazine. For more stories from Vietnam magazine, subscribe here: