Captain Donald L. Keach, USN(Ret.) died in Homosassa, Florida in August 1999 following a lengthy illness. Keach had a long and productive career in the submarine service, deep submergence community, and various private sector and international ocean science and technology programs and projects.
Keach was born and raised in Bangor, Maine, attending public schools in the area, and the University of South Carolina on a NROTC scholarship. Upon graduation in 1951, he was ordered to USS J.R. PIERCE (DD 753) in Korea and was wounded in offshore combat action. From 1953-74 he had various assignments including commanding of a patrol craft, two submarines (MACKEREL and DARTER) and the bathyscaph TRIESTE II.
In the latter capacity, with Lieutenant Geroge Martin, he took TRIESTE down for its first deployment to USS THRESHER, and identified the probable cause of her loss. This was written up in a 1963 National Geographic feature article. The information on this and later deployments led by then Lieutenant Commander Brad Mooney, contributed to the preparation of procedures implemented in the SubSafe program, initiated in response to the THRESHER incident.
In 1971, Captain Keach was ordered to Washington as Director of Navy Laboratories, Naval Material Command. In this position he also became part of the ASN(R&D) staff, serving under Ors. Robert Frosch and David Potter. He soon became involved in looking into research in the area of non-acoustic antisubmarine warfare, commissioning, under Dr. Potter, an in-depth and broad review of Navy programs in the area. The ensuing report became the premier document in the field, and is still in use today. The report was remarkable in that many of its panelists, although young at the time later became scientists with international reputations. Another ongoing activity was to upgrade the quality of personnel in the laboratory leadership pool, from the Technical Directorship and Commanding Officer level on down. He worked exceptionally well with the senior civilians in the Department, many of whom during those years were private sector executives of the highest caliber.
Reminiscing about this period, Keach recalled it as the golden years of the Navy Secretariat. Bob Frosch was the ASN(R&D) at the time, and made a point of refusing to increase his professional staff beyond seven on the premise that they should not get in anyone’s way in their various constituencies. He viewed his role as gathering information and trying to help, but never being a nuisance. Keach recalled Frosch telling his staff that .. You can’t run this kind of office hiding behind your Rolodex: you have to be hunkered down in a rice paddy or out on the flight line finding out if our stuff works. If not, why not, and how can we make it work better?”
It might also be noted that when Captain Keach chose to support an individual or cause, he did so in an exceptionally understated manner, and with great effect. It was always possible to count on his professional integrity and personal loyalty.
Upon retirement in 1974, Keach became the Deputy Executive Director of the Marine Board. Although he revitalized what had become an almost moribund organization, an opportunity arose for him to join his Navy shipmate and friend, the brilliant and charismatic Don Walsh, at the University of Southern California’s newly founded Institute for Marine and Coastal Studies. In 1983, Keach became Director, a position he held until 1992. Walsh and Keach founded a consulting business, International Maritime, Inc., in 1976, and purchased a conunercial diving business, Parker Diving. Keach retired from business in 1994, moving to Homosassa, Florida. He became ill with cancer in 1998. His two daughters, mother, and sister were with him when he died.
He won the following Navy awards and decorations:
- The Purple Heart
- Navy Commendation Medal (2)
- The Antarctic Service Medal
- The Legion of Merit
In addition, Captain Keach was elected Fellow of the Explorers Club and a fellow of the Marine Technology Service. He served as a director of many companies and projects associated with maritime operations.