Decorated Vietnam veteran turned church deacon to be inducted into Hall of Heroes Friday

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -  Just two steps into Deacon Paul Keil's office at Good Shepard Catholic Church and you know he fought in the Vietnam War. Lots of memorabilia decorates the space.

LTC. (ret.) Keil retired from the army after selflessly sacrificing himself in the battlefields. Keil wasn't very old when he went to war.

"My first assignment when I arrived in Vietnam as a 20-year-old helicopter pilot, you kind of feel that's that age where you don't really recognize vulnerabilities," Keil said.

The young soldier only had a high school diploma at the time.

"The army seduced me with more schools," Keil said. "Bigger, faster, neater air craft to fly and I just stayed in."

During Keil's time in Vietnam, he regularly flew into the firefight to pick up the wounded.

"By the time I left Vietnam, I'd been wounded once, I'd gotten a Silver Star, the Distinguished Flying Cross was awarded twice, the Bronze Star , Air Medals with 'V' Devices which are for Valor," Keil said. "I got the Purple Heart, I was wounded, and I think about the 58,000 plus people that are on that wall in Washington, DC. They got the same purple heart, same medal, and they lost their lives."

But it's actually a Cavalry Stetson hat that means the most. It's from a man who Keil rescued from almost certain death on the battlefield.

"That's the hat that he gave me and that was his, regardless there's a certain amount of sentimental value in that thing," Keil explained.

Keil said none of the accolades, nor heroism would be possible without his beloved wife Virginia of 47 years. Now, his wife will support him once again as he enters the prestigious Madison County Military Commission's Hall of Heroes. The ceremony is on Friday at the Von Braun Center.