Jack Keep volunteered for the Navy in 1951 as a 17 year old high school senior. After being assigned to the Destroyer Gatling DD671, he worked four years on the ship earning the rank of First Class Boatswain’s Mate. Jack Keep participated in Operation Mainbrace, which was the first joint NATO exercise in the North Atlantic. When Jack Keep returned to the United States, he was disappointed that few people were interested in his efforts during the Korean War. Jack Keep tells how he loves to participate in the Tell America program at schools. He also enjoys speaking about the Korean War with fellow Shenandoah Valley Chapter members.
Returning Home from the Korean War
Jack Keep described how the Korean War was "forgotten." He remembers the Korean War was in the headlines in 1950, the beginning of the war, but quickly was shifted to the back of the newspapers. Jack Keep recalls how when Korean War veterans returned home, civilians were not interested in their war stories or had failed to realize that they had even gone away.
Operation Mainbrace and the Destroyer Gatling
Jack Keep participated in Operation Mainbrace which was the first joint NATO exercise in the North Atlantic. Jack Keep recalls his duties on the deck force taking care of boats, rigging operations, and refueling at sea.
Life on a Destroyer
Jack Keep lived on the Gatling Destroyer for four years as a First Class Boatswain's Mate. Living quarters were close while their jobs included scrubbing the deck, maintenance, general quarters, and watch.
JK – My name is Jack Keep. First name J-A-C-K last name K-E-E-P
Int. – Very unique last name
JK – Yes
Int. – What is your birthday?
JK – I was born on October 28, 1934
Int. – So, about 5 years later than Great Depression. Where were you born?
JK – I was born in Rockaway Beach, NY
Int. – Can you spell it?
JK – R-o-c-k-a-w-a-y B-e-a-c-h
Int – New York?
JK – New York
Int – Where is that?
JK – It is the South Shore of Long Island
Int – Long Island, okay, now I’ve got it.
Int – Tell me about your family, when you were growing up, your parents and your siblings
JK – Well, as a boy, as a small boy we were in the midst of the Depression and my father had a difficult time finding work. At that time, he was a printer by trade. And, so he worked at whatever jobs he could find. In 1938 he joined the New York City police force and he was a police officer for the next 27 years.
Int – I see. It was hard days, right? The Depression. Do you remember those?
JK – Oh yes
Int – Tell me about those because this…schoolchildren will listen to this
interview and this is a great history lesson about the Great Depression and
how Americans grew up at the time
JK – We didn’t think that we were having a hard time during those days because it was a manner in which everyone lived. Children will think that I was born in the Dark Ages when I say we didn’t have television, we didn’t have cell phones in fact we didn’t have a telephone in our house until I was 16 years old!
Int – Wow
JK – My father didn’t own a car until I was 16 years old so we used public transportation wherever we went and it was just a common thing to do. Of course during the Second World War, almost no one drove their car because everything was rationed, food was rationed and everybody was involved during the war years. So, the Second World War touched everybody in the nation whether they were at home or whether they were in the service, it affected everyone, unlike the wars since that time when people tend to lose interest in what’s going on if it doesn’t affect them and so after the war and then the nineteenth, early nineteen, well late 1948 through ‘51, people were more or less trying to get back on their feet, get established in their careers. They were able to purchase things that they hadn’t been able to buy during the war years and so when the Korean War broke out it was on the front page at first but then pretty much it worked its way toward the back pages and people tended to lose interest in what was going on outside their immediate family and neighborhood. So I think that is one large reason why it became known as ‘The Forgotten War.’ When I came home from Korea nobody seemed to even know where I was or take any interest in what we had been doing. So the years following that after I came back into civilian life I hardly ever mentioned to anyone that I was part of the Korean War I would say I was in the Navy but, but no one seemed to be interested. Even in my own family one of my daughters said, well dad how come you never talked about the years you were in the Navy and I said well nobody ever asked and if I started to talk about it nobody was ever interested
INT – Now that’s very important points, it’s been forgotten.
JK – Yes
Int – And even Korean War veteran themselves didn’t talk about it
JK – No we didn’t because no one seemed to be interested in and we more or less felt that perhaps we didn’t do something so important.
Int – But now do you realize that how important your work was
JK – Yes sir we do
Int – Tell me about that
JK – Well I think, I think it’s only since I retired and got involved with Veterans Affairs and particularly with the Korean War Veterans Association that we became more involved not only with those who had the same experiences as we did but we became more involved with the Korean people that we met as a result of our organization interacting with, with Korean people and through these contacts with Korean people we learned really how much had been accomplished through preventing the Communists from taking over South Korea. I guess it was for the Korean people it was a slow beginning from the ceasefire, but as things began to develop there became more we became more aware probably through Korean products like automobiles and, and things that were produced in, in Korea that it was Korea, South Korea was becoming a really developed nation and in a small way we began to feel that maybe we had a part in that. Today I feel we had an important part in it.
Int – Very, very important. I wrote a book my PhD dissertation is about the role of government in our economic development and then later I put democracy, democratization together and published the book and think about any other war that U.S. has involved since World War II, Vietnam War, Iraq and all others. Can you name any country that came out of like a South Korea? Now South Korean economy is 11th largest in the world.
JK – Yes.
Int – It was completely destroyed in at the end of 1953 it was just sixty years ago and we are the substantive democracy you know the Korean president was just impeached, right?
JK – Yes I’ve been following that.
Int – Millions of millions people in the street with the candlelight and demonstrate against this corrupt government without making any real problems there it was very peaceful nonviolent very democratic demonstration that impeached our president.
JK – Yes, yeah.
Int – So that is the unprecedented aspect of the Republic of Korea came out of the ashes.
JK – Yes
Int – And you are part of it. So we need to really, really teach about these things.
JK – Right, and I went back to Korea with the return to Korea program brought my youngest daughter with me.
Int- When was it?
JK – 2015. And I was really amazed at the progress that had been made and the modernization of everything in the city of Seoul. I’ve also been immensely impressed when I meet Korean people and they, they thank us for our service to their country and I’ve, I tell people of all the countries that we have assisted in wartime and rescued from their enemies the Koreans are the only people who ever said thank you.
Int – Mm-hmm. Why is it? Why do you think is it is the case, why only the Korean? I mean US has involved in many different war right?
JK – Right
Int – World War Two all the Europeans and others why? Why do you think there is the only Koreans that thank back to you?
JK – I really don’t understand other than it must be the culture of people.
Int – Mm-hmm
JK – I think European nations the perhaps it’s the politicians more than the people but the European nations tend to be jealous of the United States for its prosperity, and maybe there are some reasons for not liking us, and we after the Second World War we just about the American economy just about rebuilt Europe and yet they still do not seem to have a great love for us, or appreciation for us.
Int – Were you Navy or…?
JK – I was in the United States Navy, yes.
Int – Navy. So did you, did you land in Korea during the war?
JK -No I did not. We were off the coast most of the time. My wife teases me sometimes about that, she said you didn’t go ashore. I said we would have been prisoners of war if we had. But I said we have the Marines to do that.
Int – Yep you have a Marine…yeah I mean you are the Navy so you are in the Korean Ocean there and you fought there so that’s what you’re supposed to do and right?
JK – That’s right.
Int – Okay, oh you made such important points in the beginning of this interview about the legacy of the Korean War and that’s what we want to teach. That’s why my foundation hosting annual conventions for the teachers, social studies and history teachers, and it’s going to be July 11th to the 14th in Washington DC. Luis Lu may know about it, but if you know of any teachers around this area it’s all free, three nights and food, even food, everything is free, but they come to learn about your legacy, your service, okay so that they can teach back to their, to their students about this. So please help us to recruit more teachers from Winchester Virginia or vicinity of this area.
JK – Be happy to do that.
Int – Please do that. Okay so when, when did you graduate and what graduate, what high school did you graduate?
JK – I attended Flushing High School in New York but I quit in my senior year to join the Navy.
Int – I see. So when was it?
JK – Uh, 1951.
Int – Mm-hmm um, why did you do that?
JK – Well during the Second World War we, we lived near the water and, and during the Second World War there was a Navy patrol boat that was stationed at the end of our street and I would see the sailors going on liberty at night in their uniforms and also some of my mother’s cousins were in the Navy during the war. So from time I was a boy I always want to be a sailor and my plan was when I graduated from high school that I would join the Navy. In 1950 when the Korean War broke out I was still too young, I was sixteen years of age in 1950, and I was too young to, to enlist so I had to wait until 1951. I still tried to join the Navy at 16 but they told me to go home and come back when I was 17. My parents had to sign for me and so in right after my birthday in October 1951 I went down to the recruiters and, and enlisted. I went to boot camp in Bainbridge, Maryland and I was assigned to a destroyer, the USS Gatling DD671 and I picked up the ship in Guantanamo Bay which is much in the news these days
Int – Yeah
JK – And for the next four years that was my home.
Int – Mm-hmm. Did you know anything about Korea? Did you learn anything about
Korea from your school?
JK – Oh…
Int – At the time when you graduate?
JK – Not from school but I followed in the newspaper because during World War two we all followed what was going on with the military.
JK -So it was natural, and particularly in view of my interest in being in military service, it was natural for me to follow and see what was going on and, and I wanted to be a part of it. I was young and foolish to have that attitude but, but I wanted to be a part of it and, and that’s the reason why I interrupted my high school in order to join the Navy.
Int – But you didn’t know much about Korea? You didn’t learn much about Korea from the school, right?
JK – Not from the school, no.
Int – So tell me about your boot camp. Where was it and when did you joined it?
JK – My boot camp experience was in the winter of 1951 through January or February and in 1952.
Int – Right.
JK – It was in Bainbridge, Maryland.
Int – And then?
JK – And then from there I was shipped here and there until I found my ship in Cuba.
Int – In Cuba?
JK – Yeah, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Int – Guantanamo Bay, yeah. And then from there did you go to the Korean?
JK – No, we were part of the Atlantic Fleet and so we participated in that in the fall of 1952 we participated in Operation Mainbrace.
Int – What is that?
JK – Mainbrace.
Int – Could you spell it? Main…
JK – M-a-i-n-b-r-a-c-e.
Int – a-c, mainbrace.
JK – It was the first joint NATO exercise and it was in the North Atlantic. Cold and rough.
Int – What did you do?
JK – I was on the deck force the entire time that I was in the Navy and finally became third class boson mate.
Int – So what was your mission?
JK – We took care of the maintenance of the ship. the decks and exterior and part of the ship. Took care of the boats and the rigging, all the rigging operations we did all of that, refueling at sea, replenishment at sea, and then of course we stood watches. I stood a whole variety of watches depending on where I was in rank, and then we all had a battle station in addition to that. So, I was the pointer trainer for the 40 millimeter anti-aircraft guns.
Int – What’s the name of the ship?
JK – The USS Gatling. G-a-t-l-i-n-g.
Int – G-a-t-
JK – L-i-n-g
JK – Named after the inventor of the Gatling gun. 670, DD671
Int – DD671
Int – How big was it?
JK – It was 375 feet long and 39 feet 6 inches at the beam.
Int – How many sailors?
JK – We had about 250 to 275 in the crew, counting officers.
Int – Tell me about the life there inside of the ship. Is it destroyer?
JK – Destroyer, yes.
Int – Umhm. How was it?
JK – Very close living to start with…
Int – Especially big person like you, right?
JK – Yes and there were there were couple that were taller than me. Tall people in small corners hit their head a lot. It was close living and we lived a routine life, which is about the only way you can live in quarters like that, and we started early in the morning or depending on what the responsibilities of the particular day would be. But we would, we would be up and, and scrubbing the decks and sweeping the decks by 6:30 in the morning and then we ate breakfast. And then after that we met, join for quarter’s, mustard for quarters, and then we, we started with our work of maintenance whatever part of the ship that would be in and if we were called to general quarters we went immediately to our battle stations. You break for lunch go back to work for the afternoon and if we were at sea we were always standing two watches a day four hours, 12 hours apart.
Int – Mm-hmm. Were there any dangerous moments during your service in the ship?
JK – Well, the reason they give you sea pay is because it’s hazardous duty.
Int – Yeah
JK – And when you’re, when you’re encountering heavy weather, it’s always very dangerous because the on a destroyer in particular the seas sweep right over the main deck and so there there’s a lot of hazard with that then when you’re doing different operations like fueling at sea where you’re running lines from ship to ship and you’re, you’re sailing along fairly close, it’s hazardous work there and when you’re working with rigging of any type it’s always very hazardous because if you, if you catch your hand or your leg in a coil in the rope or chain, you’re going to be very seriously injured so there’s a safety factor involved.
Int – So when were you discharged from the Navy?
JK – I was, I was discharged or released from the Navy in September 1955. The ship was on its way to Ecuador I was due to be discharged in October but the ship was on its way to Ecuador so I was released early…a month.
Int – The, um, tell me about the chapter here, the Shenan, Shenandoah Valley Chapter 413. When did you join and what is your activities here?
JK – Okay I noticed in the paper that, that they were, there were some men who
were interested in forming a chapter of the Korean War Veterans Association and…
Int – When was it?
JK – This was about eight years ago. And I was interested because I was a member of another veterans organization, but this was particularly people who had same experiences that I did so I called the number and I was invited to come to their next meeting and there were only a handful of us at first and there seemed to be an interest in men when you make contact with people who were Korean War veterans there seemed to be an interest in what you’re doing. So our chapter started very small but now we have over 100 members so
Int – Wow, that’s a lot.
JK – And from the very beginning we tried to be to make ourselves known in the area through activities…getting into the schools with a program we call ‘Tell America’ talking with young people, getting in parades going to different type of service organizations like the Kiwanis and the Lions and others, and telling about the either about the Korean War or about our experience as veterans. Trying to get a little publicity here and there wherever we could and its turned out that we’ve been one of the busiest of all the chapters in the country.
Int – Wow
JK – And I think what was reported the other day, I think that we’re the seventh largest chapter in the country.
JK – I think many of us for many years because there was just a ceasefire. World War two ended with two unconditional surrenders. We won.
Int – Mm-hmm
JK – Korea did not seem that way.
Int – That’s right.
JK – And so I think many of us…(inaudible scratching)..politicians were keeping us from having a victory. And we, many of us felt that we lost the war because we didn’t win it. But time changes a lot of things, doesn’t it?