Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Thursday, 26 September 2019

Eulogy for a Mate

Poor quality pic of Keith returning from Operation Finschhafen - April 1970

Keith was born on March 13th, 1945 and died on August 13th, 2019.

I was privileged to know him for only a small part of his life, initially when we were marched into B Company 7 RAR in July 1969, and from that time until he left B company in June 1970, halfway through our tour of duty. Keith had thick glasses, and after another soldier who also wore glasses was killed in a mine incident, Keith, amongst others was consequently removed from our rifle section.

I was privileged to experience that period of operational service with Keith, After that, like most Nashos, we went our separate ways.

Later, we would encounter each other at battalion reunions, notably in Melbourne and Adelaide, and recently, when Keith was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, more frequently. This last association was perhaps the most significant for me, when all the qualities that I had observed in Keith from earlier times, came to the fore.

These qualities of generosity, quiet courage, and complete integrity shone brightly as he struggled with his illness. Keith is probably the most selfless person I have ever known.

Along with the rest of us in his National Service intake, Keith adjusted to army life quickly. He did so with the minimum of fuss and maintained his core values more strongly than many of us.

Keith had a strong Catholic faith, and never once did I ever see him do or say anything that compromised that faith. That was a tall order, given what he dealt with on operational service.

Two things stand out when I remember him.

One is that he never swore. He didn’t need to. Keith was never out to impress anyone.
He also, as far as I remember, never had a nickname. Again, he didn’t need one. He was simply Keith.

Towards the end of his life, a group of us from 5 Platoon would, from time to time, converge in Newcastle to spend some time with him. On one of these occasions, Keith invited me to stay at his place, to save the expense of motel accommodation. I never did that again, because he spent the whole time I was in his home, looking after my every need. This was a man who was very ill and in pain much of the time, but Keith put that aside, and became the perfect host for the duration of my stay.

I reflected that perhaps because he had cared so well for his aging mother for so long in that home, he simply reverted to that same generous habit.

Another habit of Keith’s was letter-writing. He was probably the only person I knew who would write to me regularly. I still have a letter he wrote to me in 1991, telling me of a fellow member of 5 Platoon who was killed in a police siege. I remember him writing that we should look after each other so that kind of incident would never be repeated.

Again, his first thought on that occasion was about caring for others.

In summary, I shared only a small part of Keith’s life, but am forever grateful for that association and insight into his character and quiet strength.

May he rest in peace.

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