Today’s veteran: Keegan Federal, 76
Born: Charlotte, N.C.
Residence: St. Marys
Service: Army, 2 years
Duties: Signal corps; lawyer
Rank: 1st lieutenant
Recognitions: Vietnam Service Medal; Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal; Bronze Star Medal; National Defense Service Medal; Army Commendation Medal
Duty stations: Vietnam; Fort Gordon; Fort Bragg
His story: Keegan Federal was an ROTC student in college for two years before he earned his law degree at Emory University.
He practiced law for two years after graduation before he decided to enlist in the Army for two years rather than wait to be drafted. The recruiter told him he could be an Army lawyer if he agreed to serve for four years, but Federal declined the offer.
After he completed his officer’s basic training course, Federal was assigned to a signal corp unit at Fort Gordon. After serving 14 months, Federal got orders to Vietnam, where he was supposed to be a platoon leader for a signal corps unit. The 200-man unit was responsible for filming the war for the Army.
That signal corps unit lost four men in Cambodia in 1970 when the helicopter they were traveling in crashed.
As it turned out, his experience as a lawyer had an immediate impact on his tour of duty in Southeast Asia.
A lieutenant was accused of shooting another lieutenant just as Federal arrived in Vietnam. Accused soldiers have the right to choose their legal counsel, and the lieutenant requested Federal to represent him. Federal was reassigned as a legal officer, where he worked both as a prosecutor and as a defense lawyer for the remainder of his time in Vietnam.
Federal said never felt conflicted serving in either role. He concluded the military justice system, at the time, was more of a system of discipline than justice.
“The military justice system was a very different system than the civilian court system,” he said. “The judiciary in the civilian court system is very independent.”
He flew mostly in helicopters to different bases throughout Vietnam for his cases. One challenge was the need to use interpreters to question some
witnesses. He learned it was important to use direct communication with how the questions needed to be worded.
Federal returned to his law practice after his tour of duty ended and later served eight years as a Superior Court judge before he voluntarily left the bench to return to his private law practice.
Federal said he has no regrets about his decision to serve.
“I’m happy I did it,” he said. “For better or worse, it was our generation’s war. I’m very grateful to be part of it and very proud of my service.”
Our Veterans runs Tuesdays. Contact Gordon Jackson at email@example.com or at 912-464-7655 to suggest a veteran for a column.