Keith Pennington

by havoc

My Dad died from cancer one year ago, today I’d like to write something about him.

Dad liked animals, (certain) children, the woods, hunting, fine guns and knives, books, history, sharing his knowledge, strong coffee, and arguing about politics.

He grew up partly at my grandparents’ summer camp in Michigan called Chippewa Ranch, and partly on their cattle ranch in Georgia.

With brother Kenny

Keith On Poco

Dad’s favorite book, The Old Man and the Boy, is almost a blueprint for how he wanted to live and what kind of father he wanted to be. Robert Ruark’s epigraph in that book says “Anyone who reads this book is bound to realize that I had a real fine time as a kid,” and we spent our childhood weekends doing all sorts of things other kids weren’t allowed to do. In my copy of the book when I was 15, Dad wrote “This is all you really need to know, all you have to do is ‘do'”.

Havoc hunting

With my sister

I inherited a lot more of Dad’s reading-a-book-constantly side than his outdoor adventure side, but a little of both rubbed off.

Dad signed up for Vietnam, and while he never talked about it much, I’m guessing in some ways it was the last time he mostly enjoyed his day job.

His closest friend summarized his military career:

Diverted in 1968 from assignment to 5th SFGA to the Americal Division he was a LRRP Platoon Commander for his first tour. He extended in country to serve with the II Corps Mike Force in their separate 4th Battalion in Kontum. He chose to command a Rhade company in preference to available staff positions and was wounded severely during the Joint Mike Force Operation at Dak Seang in 1970 sufficient to require medevac to Japan with a severe leg wound from taking a grenade at about 4 feet while leading an assault on an NVA position. He was awarded three Silver Stars if the third one ever caught up with him–he certainly never searched it out.

with a dog in Vietnam

explaining something in Vietnam

Dad wasn’t one to define himself by military glory days, though. I think the adventure in Vietnam was just one more adventure, preceded by others, and he continued throughout his life.

One of the themes running through Dad’s life was his dislike for convention, and people who were too conventional in his eyes. He wasn’t afraid to name his son Havoc, for example. He loved revolutionaries and adventurers of all stripes, right-wing or left-wing. His military dogtags list his religion as “animist.” As we were growing up, he had nothing to say about religion one way or the other; he felt we ought to figure it out for ourselves. That was another of his parenting philosophies, he wasn’t going to tell us what to think. The fastest way to earn Dad’s contempt was to have an opinion just because other people had it, or to have an ignorant opinion because you hadn’t read enough books.

Another quick way to earn contempt was to be unprepared or incompetent. We had to have enough equipment at all times; I still have a basement full of equipment and a house full of books. Some old friends may remember laughing about my pile of assorted axes and hatchets. Dad could never remember for sure whether I had enough, including the several necessary varieties, so he’d send another one along every so often.

Whenever we got into some activity, whether cycling or leatherworking or hunting or backpacking, we’d end up with several times more equipment for that activity than we could ever use, as Dad tried everything out to be sure we had what worked best. We’d also have a complete library of books on the topic. And we got into a lot of activities.

Dad loved anything he thought was neat, which included most animals. We had a lot of crazy pets, from a squirrel to a 500-pound wild hog. As I’m looking through old photos, he’s always hanging out with a dog.

With a hunting hound

With another hound

It turned out that he more or less killed himself with cigarettes. He’d always rationalized bad habits saying he didn’t want to get old and dependent anyway, but in the end I think he’d rather have lived to see his grandchildren grow up. He died at home with family and friends, and was only confined to bed for his last day or two.

When he died my own son was six months old, and I stood outside the house where I grew up and hugged my son for all I was worth. Whenever I start to think about my son knowing my Dad, learning some of the things I learned as a kid, that’s what brings on the tears. I wish we’d had some adventures with the three of us.

I know my son and I will have some adventures anyhow, and I’ll think about Dad every time, and tell my son what advice Grandpa would have had, as best I can remember it.

At Horace Kephart's grave in Bryson City, September 2009

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My Twitter account is @havocp.
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