http://firstname.lastname@example.org Philip A. Keith, a well-known writer and newspaper columnist, died on March 10 at Southampton Hospital. The resident of Southampton was 74.
Born on August 24, 1946 in Springfield, Massachusetts, Mr. Keith attended school there and then at Harvard University, where he studied history. Having enlisted in the ROTC program at the university, upon graduation in 1968 he was commissioned as an ensign in the U.S. Navy. Mr. Keith’s service to his country included three tours of duty in Vietnam. During the first tour he was a naval aviator, flying Phantom F-4s. During one mission he survived being shot down, an action for which Mr. Keith earned his first Purple Heart. His second tour of duty resulted in a second Purple Heart after being wounded during in-country combat. His third tour in Vietnam involved being an intelligence officer and flag secretary to Admiral John McCain Jr., who was commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. Mr. Keith served a total of 25 years in the military, including the Merchant Marine and Coast Guard, and retired with the rank of captain. In addition to the Purple Hearts, Mr. Keith was awarded the Air Medal for Gallantry, Presidential Unit Citation, and the Navy Commendation Medal.
In civilian life, Mr. Keith earned Master’s Degrees from Long Island University and the Naval War College. He undertook a business career, which included working for two Fortune 500 firms and doing marketing consulting. He also had a long teaching career with positions as assistant professor of business at LIU and an adjunct instructor at the Rhode Island School of Design.
In more recent years, with a long-held desire to write having previously been untapped, Mr. Keith devoted himself to writing novels. His breakthrough, however, was as a nonfiction author, with the publication by St. Martin’s Press in 2012 of Blackhorse Riders. This true story of an Army regiment ambushed by enemy forces in Vietnam in 1970 won the USA Book News for Best Military Non-Fiction Award, was a finalist for the Colby Award, and earned the silver medal from Military Writers Society of America.
“Phil’s book was about a heroic group of men who served in Vietnam but it wasn’t until later on in the publishing process that I discovered more about Phil’s heroics in that same war,” recalled Marc Resnick, executive editor and vice-president at St. Martin’s Press. “He was both humble and professional, hard-working and funny, and a pleasure to work with.”
A follow-up Vietnam book, Fire Base Illingworth, released by St. Martin’s Press in 2013, was a Gold Medal winner from MWSA. Returning to the sea, in a way, Stay the Rising Sun, an account of the sinking of the USS Lexington during the Battle of the Coral Sea in World War II, was published in 2015 to much acclaim. Mr. Keith’s recent projects include All Blood Runs Red, about the first African-American fighter pilot, published by Hanover Square Press in 2018, which earned the MWSA gold medal, and the forthcoming To the Uttermost Ends of the Earth, a narrative of the battle between in USS Kearsarge and CSS Alabama in June 1864.
“I still remember my first meeting with Phil to discuss his book All Blood Runs Red,” said Peter Joseph, editorial director at Hanover Square Press. “You could see the excitement of a born storyteller, eager to share with readers something new and original that they hadn’t known before.”
Local readers will recognize Mr. Keith for his newspaper work, especially his column, “Mostly Right,” which appeared in editions of the Press News Group. It generated many letters to the editor over the years and earned first place in Opinion Writing from the New York Press Association. When out from behind the keyboard, Mr. Keith was a longtime member of the Southampton Town Planning Board. He was a proud member of VFW Post 5350, American Legion Post 924, the Disabled American Veterans, and Vietnam Veterans of America.
Mr. Keith had many friends in the area, some of whom gathered once a month, usually at the writers hangout Bobby Van’s in Bridgehampton, to tell tall tales and a few true ones. Dubbed “Nights of the Round Table,” the gathering was set to resume soon. Mr. Keith was generous with his support and encouragement of other writers, particularly those with similar military backgrounds.
“It took me 50 years to find the right time, courage, and motivation to do it,” said George Motz of Quogue about his own book. “And it took the initial patience of a close friend, Sir Harold Evans, combined with Phil who worked wonders to get the project over the finish line. Safe to say, it would still be in draft form had Phil not been kind enough to spend his valuable time simultaneously critiquing and encouraging me. His mantra was, ‘Tell your story in your own voice. That's what people want to hear.’"
Mr. Motz added: “As is so often the case with veterans, especially Vietnam War veterans, Phil never went into much detail about his time in 'Nam, although he was certainly proud to have served our country and his service record speaks for itself. I loved the man and will miss his friendship 'til the end of my days.”
Mr. Keith is survived by a son, Pierce, a graduate of Westhampton Beach High School who is now a student at Northeastern University, triplet daughters, Jennifer, Adria, and Tracy; and his longtime partner, Laura Lyons, who he often referred to as his “Muse.”
A funeral with military honors will be held at the Calverton National Cemetery on Tuesday, March 23, at 10.30 a.m.
In lieu of flowers a donation can be made in Philip's honor to USA Warrior Stories