Brothers in Arms
Many who have served in the military consider their comrades in arms as family, but Sandy VFW Commander Bert Key actually got to serve with his brother Johnny.
The Key brothers each served in combat for 28 months in Vietnam. Before them, their grandfather served in World War I and their father in World War II.
"The Keys do more than their fair share," Key observed.
Through his service in Vietnam, Bosnia and Afghanistan, Key has served 44 non-contiguous years in the military. His military career started promptly at 18 years old. He left his home on a 50-acre farm for boot camp two weeks after his graduation from Estacada High school in 1964. That was his first time away from home as well as on an airplane.
"Oh, that was exciting," Key admitted. "Man, we really found out what real work was all about."
Key said his father "was a real taskmaster," but the military was something else.
"I always knew I was going to be a marine," he said, "so did my brother."
Key was only halfway through boot camp when the airstrikes began in Vietnam and U.S. military trainees were called into action. Key was soon on a Navy ship sailing to Vietnam, then climbing down over the barricades onto the Eastern island.
"I still remember ... climbing down and thinking, 'My dad did this same thing years ago,'" Key said.
Key said he chose the Marines not only because of his father's affiliation.
"I like the spirit — the devil may care, swashbuckling" attitude, he said.
The thing Key could not have chosen was how he'd be received back home after Vietnam.
"In the old days we'd call it coming back to the real world," he said. And the "real world" of America in the late 1960s and '70s did not look kindly on the soldiers of the Vietnam War.
"I went to the U of O — even now it's considered pretty liberal," Key noted. "There were anti-war demonstrations (monthly). When people found out you were a vet, they'd shy away from you."
"There are still people today who have a hard time admitting they're a veteran of Vietnam," Key noted. "(Luckily), I had great family support. For me, I also truly believe that staying in the reserves was therapy. We're with each other all the time — we have all the same likes, dislikes, problems."
Between tours and for years after, Key worked as a social studies teacher. It was his form of giving back to the country he once fought for and was fortunate enough to live to enjoy.
He taught for five years in Baker before moving to Sandy, where he taught at the high school for 26 years.
He has also now volunteered with the Sandy VFW for 35 years, serving four terms as the commander.
"It took me 20 years to join after I qualified," Key said. "That attitude (about Vietnam veterans) was also in the VFW. There were posts around that passed resolutions to exclude Vietnam vets. It finally dawned on me that maybe I should join and have a positive impact. I want to make sure young guys here feel welcome. I've done every position in the VFW except quartermaster."
Through the VFW, Key has helped with several programs over the year, teaching local youths about the flag and their freedoms, providing scholarship opportunities to students, fundraising for the national veterans services for veterans in need and commemorating those who fought for our country and have passed away.
"I'm not a hero," Key explained. "I've had the fortune of walking amongst a few heroes. I used to think my dad was a hero, and he said 'No, son. The heroes are still there.'"