EAST LIVERPOOL-Next to engaging the enemy in combat, probably the worst part about Vietnam was monsoon season.
Day after day of rain forced the soldier to make hard choices-between sleeping waist-deep in a flooded trench or staying out of the water and making himself an easy target for the enemy.
It's experiences like that, and some unusual coincidences, that bonded twin brothers Bill and Bob Keys even closer together after their military service was over.
Bob Keys (left) and his twin brother, Bill, reminisce at Bill’s kitchen table about their military service in Vietnam. They are looking at, among other things, their Bronze Star commendations for valor in combat. (Photo by Stephen Huba)
"He's been there and done it. We can relate usually good in that way," Bob Keys said, "especially with us both having combat experience."
"We don't talk a lot about it," Bill Keys said, "but when there's talking to be done, we're there for each other."
Even though the East Liverpool brothers don't make a big deal out of Veterans Day, which is Sunday, they have been irrevocably changed by their experiences in Vietnam.
The twins, now 56, served within a year of each other in Vietnam-Bob in the Army and Bill in the Marine Corps-and in the same area: Hill 69 and the cities of Chu Lai and Tam Ky. Bill served as a machine gunner with the 5th Marines; Bob as a tanker with the Army's 1st Cavalry Division.
After earning his third Purple Heart, Bill was sent home in October 1967. A month later, Bob got his orders, arriving in Vietnam just in time for the Tet Offensive
Even though both men, 1966 graduates of East Liverpool High School, enlisted at the same time, the U.S. military would not send brothers into war at the same time, Bob Keys said.
Bill signed up with the Marine Corps, but Bob decided on the Army because he "didn't want to end up in the infantry. ... I really wanted to get an education, so I went into navigation electronics school (at Fort Gordon in Augusta, Ga.)."
But the Army had other plans for Bob, who avoided the infantry only to end up in the armored cavalry. His platoon conducted search-and-destroy missions with tanks and ACAVs, armored personnel carriers with machine guns attached.
"Because of the monsoons, it was too wet for tanks," Bob Keys said. "They would just sink in the mud."
It was only after the brothers returned home to East Liverpool that they learned that they both had served on the same bridge-Bill in 1967 and Bob in 1968.
Bill was on guard duty on a bridge just north of Tam Ky when he suffered a gunshot wound to the shoulder from a sniper. He had been reading a letter from home, his brother said.
"One year later I was pulling security on the same bridge," Bob said.
Both men earned the Bronze Star with "V" device for valor in combat-Bill for his "aggressive and determined fighting spirit" on May 14, 1967, and Bob for "exceptionally valorous actions" on Feb. 27, 1968.
Bill keeps his medals in a safe deposit box; Bob keeps his, including an Army Commendation Medal, with him. The Bronze Star case still has mold from when it got wet in Vietnam. "That thing smelled like Vietnam for a long time," he said.
Bob Keys arrived in Vietnam two weeks before the start of the Tet Offensive, a major military campaign by the forces of the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army. "That was my first dose of combat," he said. "We kicked their butts from top to bottom."
Even though U.S. and South Vietnamese forces ultimately beat back the offensive, news coverage of the Vietnam War in the United States was a different story, Bob Keys said. "When I got home and watched the evening news, I didn't know what war they were covering. It wasn't the war I just came from," he said. "It was so one-sided-against us."
Bob Keys went on to work for Crucible Steel in Midland, Pa., while Bill worked at Airco Welding in Newell.
The twins' other three brothers also served in the military-Larry in the Army, Ronald in the Marines and Lesley Duane in the Army.