Skip Navigation
Billy Keith Ford
Courtesy of Novagene Lowery, sister of Billy Keith Ford

West Virginia Veterans Memorial


Billy Keith Ford

"It was my view then, and still is, that you don't make war without knowing why. Knowledge of course, is always imperfect, but it seemed to me that when a nation goes to war it must have reasonable confidence in the justice and imperative of its cause. You can�t fix your mistakes. Once people are dead, you can't make them undead."

Tim O'Brien

Billy Keith Ford was born on September 28, 1945, in Boomer, Fayette County, West Virginia. Boomer is a small town of around 400 residents located on the north bank of the Kanawha River about two miles southeast of Smithers. He was born to Juanita Kilburn Ford and Henry Ford, who was a prisoner of war (POW) in France during World War II. After returning home from the war, Henry worked in the coal mines until he retired and then worked at West Virginia Institute of Technology as a carpenter. Billy was the third eldest of four boys, his brothers being James, Robert, and Bruce; and five girls, Betty (Kerwood), Brenda (Kerwood), Novagene (Lowery), Ronda (Keller), and Fonda (Washington).

According to his sister Novagene Lowery, Billy and his family spent most of their time working in the local gardens near their home. If they weren't in the garden, they were packing their gear to go camping in the state parks. As time went on, Billy took a liking to the local football games that were held almost every Friday in the fall. This is where he met a young girl by the name of Karen Sue Reese. He instantly fell in love with the fiery brunette and spent as much time with her as possible. He attended Montgomery High School; however, at the age of 18 he dropped out of high school and later received his general educational development diploma (GED). On April 6, 1964, he married Karen, who was 16 at the time, in her father's home by the Reverend Donald Fields in Nettie, Nicholas County, West Virginia.

In 1967, Billy entered the Army and completed his initial training at Fort Story, Virginia, as an 11B-Infantryman and later deployed to Vietnam on December 23, 1967.

Private First Class Billy Keith Ford was assigned to Alpha Company, 5th Battalion, 7th Cavalry, which was one of nine infantry battalions that belonged to the 1st Air Cavalry Division. With the massive military buildup that would occur between 1965 and 1967, the 5/7 Cav was formed as a brand new battalion in April of 1966. The battalion departed on its historic maiden voyage from San Francisco Bay on August 2, spending 18 days at sea enduring a typhoon in the South China Sea before arriving at the Port of Qui Nhon on August 20, 1966. They were transported inland into the heart of the Central Highlands to Camp Radcliff, the 1st Air Cavalry's base camp, more commonly referred to as An Khe, named after a nearby city.
Members of Billy Keith Ford's unit in Vietnam. Courtesy Eddie Ford, nephew of Pfc. Ford

Members of Billy Keith Ford's unit in Vietnam. Courtesy Eddie Ford, nephew of Pfc. Ford

Later, in January of 1968, the 1st Cavalry moved to Camp Evans in the province of Thua Thien, a province in the north central coastal region of Vietnam, which is approximately in the center of the country. It borders Quang Tri province to the north and Da Nang to the south, Laos to the west and the East Sea to the east. The province was known as an area of heavy fighting during the Vietnam War, as it was the second-most northerly province of South Vietnam, close to the North Vietnamese border (DMZ) at the 17th Parallel. More U.S. soldiers-2,893-died in this province than in any other province in Vietnam. (Joshua and Wilbur Bowe, "The Ground You Stand Upon: Life of a Skytrooper in Vietnam," accessed 14 April 2020,

As a result of the Tet Offensive, which was a major counterstrike by the North Vietnamese forces from January 30 until the end of March of 1968, Billy and his unit would participate in Operation Pegasus, which began on April 1, 1968, and lasted till April 15, 1968. It was a massive operation that the 1st Air Cavalry Division kicked off against the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) regulars surrounding Khe Sanh. The Army's only airmobile division launched Operation Pegasus from its base at Camp Evans near Hue to within miles of Khe Sanh on April 1. The division's mission was to spearhead the drive with 10,000 cavalrymen to relieve pressure on the Marine garrison, which had been under siege for 78 days, by engaging the NVA and reopening Highway 9, the overland road to Khe Sanh. ("Cavalry Takes Over Khe Sanh," Cavalair, 24 April 1968, accessed 14 April 2020,

The division's arrival altered the balance of forces in Khe Sanh area where some 6,000 Marines and Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVNs) had been defending against a large number of NVA. Estimates ran as high as 40,000 enemy surrounding Khe Sanh at one time.

The swift-moving skytroopers, fresh from their relief of Khe Sanh earlier in the month, leaped into the A Shau valley without ground support on April 19, 1965, in support of Operation Delaware-Lam Son 216, spearheaded by the airmobile 1st Cavalry. Slinging artillery pieces below giant helicopters, pouring out murderous fire from rocket-carrying gunships, they showed the NVA that there was no such thing as an enemy sanctuary in South Vietnam. While administering this lesson, the men of the 1st and 3rd Brigades seized tons of abandoned supplies and equipment.

The 5th Battalion, 7th Cavalry, assaulted into Landing Zone (LZ) Tiger and began combat patrols in search of the NVA and their supplies and caches. They began to interdict movement on Route 548 by blocking the route that entered from Laos to the West; enemy vehicle losses started to mount up. The 5/7 Cav manned the dominating position at LZ Tiger, which kept a stranglehold on the A Shau Valley, hindering the enemy's efforts at both retreat and reinforcement. The 5/7 Cav continued to secure the valley floor, clashing with enemy units and uncovering huge enemy caches of food, arms, ammunition, rockets, and Russian-made tanks and bulldozers. ("A Journey into the A Shau Valley," Air Cavalry Division, September 1968, accessed 14 April 2020,

On April 28, 1968, probably while on a combat patrol, Alpha Company came under attack from small arms fire and Pfc. Billy Keith Ford was killed. However, over the course of the next few weeks the enemy would suffer over 850 casualties and would lose huge stockpiles of weapons, ammunition and supplies. Any serious attempt by the NVA to conduct major offensive operations out of the A Shau base area would now require many months of additional preparation.

Pfc. Ford�s military marker, Montgomery Memorial Park. Courtesy MAJ (Ret) T. Brad McGee

Pfc. Ford's military marker, Montgomery Memorial Park. Courtesy MAJ (Ret) T. Brad McGee

Billy Keith Ford's remains were sent home to Montgomery, West Virginia. His funeral was held at the Mount Carbon Community Church on Sunday, May 12, 1968, and he was laid to rest in the Montgomery Memorial Park in London, West Virginia. He is memorialized on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall on Panel 52E, Line 37, and is also remembered at the West Virginia Veterans Memorial in Charleston, West Virginia. Pfc. Ford's commendations include the Purple Heart, Army Combat Infantryman Badge, Marksmanship Badge, National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Campaign Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, the Army Presidential Unit Citation, the Vietnam Gallantry Cross, and the Army Good Conduct Medal.

Sadly, his family has only memories of Billy as a teenager before he was sent off. During a fire after his death, all photos, records, and medals were destroyed.

Article prepared by Alyssa Groth and MAJ (Ret) T. Brad McGee, George Washington High School JROTC
March 2020


Billy Keith Ford

West Virginia Archives and History welcomes any additional information that can be provided about these veterans, including photographs, family names, letters and other relevant personal history.

Veterans Memorial Database

West Virginia Veterans Memorial

West Virginia Archives and History

West Virginia Archives and History