In Memoriam: Chief Petty Officer John Keith Bemis
Monsignor and Father Jim, thank you for your inspiring words.
From the Marines, Lt. Commander Abdo, and from the Navy, Corpsman Ruddich, Commander Bock, Senior Chief Matthews, Chief Hall, Chief Petty Officer-Select Jennifer Duarte, Chief Baney, Chief Select Dilloway, Chief Select Blake, Petty Officer Englehart and all other uniformed personnel, you honor Keith and us with your presence. We also thank Commander Gerald Olin and Master Chief Michele Curtain of the U.S.S. Independence for their kindness and assistance.
Steve, we thank you for that motorcycle escort last week. We also thank the people of Delphos for their human wall of support.
Likshio, welcome to Ohio and thank you for making the long trip from Tijuana.
I am the brother of Keith’s mother Susanne and Keith’s Godfather. I’m here to tell you a few stories that hopefully illustrate the true character of Chief Petty Officer John Keith Bemis.
His full name was John Keith Bemis, but since we already had so many Johns in the family – my mother’s father, her brother, my father and my brother, we all called the first son of Sue and Tony Bemis "Keith."
As you may remember, Arnold Schwarzenegger was Keith’s favorite action movie star. When he moved from making action films to California Governor, Arnold’s favorite habit was to describe everything – a movie he did, a campaign he won or a weightlifting record he set – as "FANTASTICK."
I’m going to borrow Arnold’s favorite word and apply it to Keith – he really was fantastic. He was simply a good, good kid: A loyal son, a loving brother, a dedicated sailor and my closest nephew.
The first thing Commander Olin told me after expressing his condolences was that he wanted to emphasize what a tremendous asset Keith was to the US Navy. What stood out from Commander Olin’s tribute to Keith was that he was always willing to help out and that’s how I remember him. He was always there for everyone.
I knew Keith from the moment he was born, but I really got to know him in the late 1990s when he would come to stay the summer in Santa Monica to train for football season. Every day we’d go over to the Santa Monica College Track to either run or lift weight or sometimes both. There were also some USC players training there and they showed Keith a few pointers including something called a “Navy Seal push-up,” an 8-part exercise that combined push-ups, sit-ups, squat thrusts and chin-ups. When Keith first started training, he could only do about 15 or 20. By the end of the summer, he could do over 100.
On his last Sunday of training, we were over at the field and this handicapped kid named David was trying to kick extra points. Keith played on Special Teams at St. John’s and went over to teach him how to kick properly. David would miss the ball and say: “sorry Kevin.” We’d say his name is Keith and then David would miss the ball again and say: “sorry Kyle.” We’d remind David that the name was Keith. Poor David must have missed 20 kicks and called Keith 20 different names that began with K, including girls’ names like Kim, Kathleen and Karen. Finally, Keith got David to kick an extra point that was good and we all went home laughing about the missed names. And of course, that fall, Delphos St. John’s supplied a happy ending by winning the State Championship.
Also that summer, my sister Martha and her husband Dan were visiting Monterey for a medical convention. Keith and I drove up to meet them for a few days. We went sightseeing and my god-daughter Vickie, then 6 years old, was tired so Keith carried her all over Monterey: up and down Cannery Row, onto the Pier, over to the Aquarium and back to the hotel. And he never complained.
A few months before Keith’s visit, I had met an actress who starred with Arnold in Conan and one day she called for assistance in moving. Keith and I drove out to the San Fernando Valley, which in July is regularly over 100 degrees. It was 103 that day and Keith worked all day for nothing more than an In-N-Out Burger and a Coke, but he never complained. That’s where I think he developed his affection for In-N-Out burgers; he would get the double cheeseburger “Animal Style,” a tasty concoction of beef, fries, cheese, onions, peppers and some funky sauce.
Cassandra gave Keith an autographed picture of her and Arnold from Conan and I later got the Governor to sign it for Keith. When I told Arnold that Keith was serving in the Navy, Arnold replied that it was what else? “Fantastick!”
In San Diego, Keith lived in a housing complex full of military families. I heard numerous wives tell me that when their husbands were away on duty, Keith was the guy to see whenever they needed something done whether it was a spider in the kitchen, a mouse in the house, a cat in the tree, a clogged drain or a car that wouldn’t start. Keith would solve their problems; refuse any offer of payment, instead saying “just make me some enchiladas.” His neighbor Eileen joked that he should wear a shirt that said: “will work for food.”
These stories illustrate the true character of this young man… kind, hard-working and uncomplaining.
Folks in the complex like Roberto, Eileen, Diana and Vidi all gave him their highest compliment, calling Keith an “Honorary Mexican” and that is what he was: He loved Mexican tequila, Mexican beer, Mexican chocolate, Mexican food and Mexican women, especially Likshio.
The Navy’s slogan is “A Global Force for Good” and Keith always tried to live up to that – whether at sea or on the shore.
So God Bless you Keith, we’ll always love you and we’ll never forget you.
Patrick Reddy delivered this eulogy for Chief Petty Officer (US Navy) John Keith Bemis on August 21, 2012.
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