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LibbyMt.com > News > November 2010 > Veterans share stories at LHS

Jeff Keyworth. Photo by Kootenai Valley Record.
Jeff Keyworth

Mark Peck. Photo by Kootenai Valley Record.
Mark Peck

Mike Cirian. Photo by Kootenai Valley Record.
Mike Cirian

Kootenai Valley Record. Photo by Kootenai Valley Record.
Kootenai Valley Record
Veterans share stories at LHS
by Brent Shrum, Kootenai Valley Record
November 18, 2010

Three local veterans of military service ranging from the Vietnam War to Operation Desert Storm to the current conflict in Iraq spoke about their experiences during a Veterans Day assembly Thursday morning at Libby High School.

Jeff Keyworth was drafted into the Army in 1970 and served as an infantryman with the Americal Division in Vietnam before returning to the United States and beginning a career as a police officer in California. After five months of training, the young Keyworth was deployed to South Vietnam to serve as point man for a platoon of 18 to 20 men searching the jungle for Viet Cong guerillas, for whom the booby trap was a primary weapon.

Living conditions were "minimal," Keyworth said, with the platoon living in the field for two weeks at a time, sleeping in the open at night, moving four to five miles a day while carrying 80-pound packs and getting resupplied with water and ammunition every three days.

"You walk everywhere," Keyworth said. "You carry everything you own."

Keyworthís job was to lead the platoon and watch the ground immediately in front of him for trip wires and other booby traps. He had a partner who was responsible for looking farther ahead for the enemy. The two learned to trust each other completely.

"Life really does depend on the guy next to you, particularly in a combat environment," Keyworth said.

One day Keyworthís partner stopped him with a hand on his shoulder and pointed in front of them. About 20 feet away, on the bank of a small river, was a Viet Cong soldier with a fishing pole in his hand and his AK-47 rifle lying beside him.

"I hadnít seen him," Keyworth said. "He hadnít seen me."

Keyworth told the students gathered for the assembly that Veterans Day is "an official thank you" from the country to veterans of past wars as well as those who are currently serving. He urged everyone to personally thank a veteran.

"I guarantee you youíll make their day, and youíll feel better for it," he said.

Mark Peck graduated from Libby High School in 1977 and served in the U.S. Air Force from 1980 to 2000. He recently returned home to Libby to take a job as local unit manager for the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation.

Peck said he joined the Air Force in the middle of the Iran hostage crisis, which he noted would be included in the studentsí history books.

"It feels weird saying that," he said. "It seems like just yesterday, but it is history."

During Operation Desert Storm in 1991, one of Peckís responsibilities was deciding who would go into combat.

"What it boils down to is, the most qualified go," he said.

Peck shared a story about a young man in his unit named Paul Nguyen, whose family had escaped from Vietnam at the end of the war, when Paul was 5 years old. Paulís parents went into business for themselves and became independently wealthy, Peck said. Paul now has two masterís degrees and heads a medical company in Texas, he has a sister who is an executive with a pharmaceutical company, and he has another sister and a brother who are engineers in different fields.

"I can tell you, you donít say anything negative about America to the Nguyen family," Peck said.

Peck urged the students to be educated and involved citizens, regardless of their political affiliation.

"It doesnít matter," he said. "You need to be involved in the process."

Mike Cirian served seven years with the U.S. Naval Reserve and also served in Iraq with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Heís currently employed by the Environmental Protection Agency as project manager for the Libby asbestos cleanup operation.

While in Iraq, Cirian oversaw the reconstruction of Baghdad and helped build six schools. He supervised a staff of 1,500 Iraqi employees and another 200 Americans. Cirianís Iraqi staff included engineers who hadnít been able to practice their trade under the rule of Saddam Hussein.

"They were so excited we were there," Cirian said.

Cirian said one young woman who worked for him had her daughter executed in front of her because she worked for the Americans. The woman showed up for work the next day, he said.

"Thatís the kind of sacrifice we just donít see anymore," he said.

Editor's Note: See the November 16, 2010 edition of the Kootenai Valley Record for the printed version of this story. The Kootenai Valley Record publishes once a week, on Tuesdays, in Libby, Montana. They are a locally owned community newspaper, located at 403 Mineral Avenue in Libby. For in-county and out-of-county subscription information, call 406-293-2424, or e-mail kvrecord@gmail.com.

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