William Keith enlisted in the Navy in August of 1941. Four months later, the 19-year-old Marshfield native was aboard the USS West Virginia when six torpedoes and two bombs struck the vessel in Pearl Harbor.
He survived the attack that killed 106 of his shipmates, and ultimately served for five years before returning home.
On Wednesday, 75 years after the Japanese assault on Pearl Harbor, about 100 residents of the Brookdale Quincy Bay Nursing Home, more than 40 Navy sailors, and four generations of Keith’s family gathered to pay homage to the veteran, who is now 94.
“We’re here for our residents, and we just wanted to recognize him,” said Mark Cohen, the executive director of the nursing home and organizer of the ceremony.
Keith’s children said it was great to see him recognized in such a meaningful ceremony.
“We didn’t know all these sailors were coming, I think he liked it,” said Jayne Murray, one of Keith’s six children.
When Keith returned on leave, he met and married Barbara, his wife of more than 70 years, his family said.
They raised eight children. Murray said her father didn’t talk much about the attacks, but he’s recently participated in a World War II documentary for PBS, as well as a book about Pearl Harbor survivors whose sons served in Vietnam.
His son, Steven, is a Vietnam veteran.
Keith watched quietly as nursing home staff, state senators, city councilors, veterans, and Navy sailors showered him with praise.
State Senator John F. Keenan presented a certificate on behalf of the senate; the Navy War College gave Keith a memorial flag and a Pearl Harbor picture; the Quincy department of veterans services brought a tie and played the “Taps” on the bugle; and the Naval Health Clinic of New England gave him a hat bearing the name of USS West Virginia, a new submarine that owes its name to Keith’s ship.
“As I look and see your wife and children, and . . . your grandchildren and great-grandchildren, it is truly a legacy,” Keenan said. “When we look at them, we understand what it is that your generation did for our generations.”Dylan McGuinness can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @DylMcGuinness.