MILLSBORO – At the dedication ceremony Friday to rename the bridge that runs over Ten Mile Creek between Washington and Greene counties, state Sen. Tim Solobay, D-Canonsburg, said when he was first approached about naming the bridge for Fredericktown native, Lt. Gen. William Morgan Keys, he thought, “my goodness gracious, we’ve got a real life John Wayne from Washington County.”
When one reviews the military history of the retired lieutenant general, Solobay wasn’t far off.
Keys, who entered the Naval Academy in 1960, went on to serve 34 years before retiring. He began as a platoon leader with the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, going on to become a decorated company commander with the 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment while serving in Vietnam.
A voluntary second tour in Vietnam was spent as a major and adviser to the Vietnamese Marine Brigade that recaptured and defended Quang Tri Province from the North Vietnamese Army.
Keys went on to become the Commanding General of the 2nd Marine Division at Camp LeJeune, N.C., where he prepared more than 20,500 Marines for deployment and combat during Desert Storm.
Call-sign “Pit Bull,” Keys received numerous meritorious awards for his work defending, and training others to defend, the United States and its allies. Keys received the Navy Cross for conspicuous gallantry in action, the Silver Star, Bronze Star with Combat “V,” two Distinguished Service Medals, the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, Cross of Gallantry, Legion of Merit with Combat “V,” Defense Meritorious Service Medal and Vietnam Service Medal with four bronze stars.
In addition to graduating from the Naval Academy, his military education includes The Basic School, Amphibious Warfare School and the Command and Staff College, all at Quantico, Va. Keys is also a graduate of the National War College in Washington, D.C., and holds a master’s degree from American University.
State Rep. Pam Snyder, D-Jefferson, referred to Keys’ military career as “amazing,” noting her pride that the first piece of legislation she got passed as a state representative was the one to honor Keys by renaming the current Route 88 Bridge. This 384-foot, $10 million bridge replaced an older steel truss bridge a year ago, connecting East Bethlehem Township in Washington County with Jefferson Township in Greene County.
“It was a very easy decision for Pam and I to work together to make this happen,” Solobay said of dedicating the bridge in Keys’ name. “We’re very fortunate the general could be with us, alive and well.” Solobay said oftentimes such dedications occur posthumously.
Keys credited his upbringing and the area in which it took place for shaping him into the person he became.
“This was a great town, a great place to grow up. Growing up here and the values that were instilled in me by a lot of people in this area made me who I am,” Keys said. “People who grow up in places other than places like this are at a disadvantage today.”
Following his retirement from active duty Sept. 1, 1994, Keys continued to serve as a presenter for seminars presented to Naval Academy midshipmen with an interest in the Marine Corps. He is a President’s Circle donor to the Naval Academy Foundation.
Within five years of his retirement, Keys was named president of the Colt firearms manufacturing company in Hartford, Conn. Later, as the chief executive officer of the company, Keys was credited with reviving the company when it was at the brink of bankruptcy. He resigned as CEO in February 2013, but continues with Colt as president and chief executive officer emeritus and is a member of its board of directors.
Today, Keys, 75, lives on a ranch in Hume, Va., with his wife, Gail, daughter, Lizzie, 9, and a bevy of quarter horses. Keys credits his love of horses to his childhood growing up around them and his father, Charles, who served as a member of the mounted artillery in World War I.
With a throng of family, friends, politicians and well-wishers to congratulate him, Keys said, the renaming of the bridge “is a great honor I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life.”