WASHINGTON — Retired four-star Gen. Jack Keane received the nation’s highest civilian honor Tuesday at a White House ceremony hosted by President Donald Trump, who called the Army veteran a “visionary,” a “brilliant strategist” and a “fearless patriot.”
The crowd in the East Room gave Keane a standing ovation when the medal was placed around his neck.
“In 2006, Jack helped engineer the surge that stabilized the deteriorating situation in Iraq and allowed Iraqis to finally take charge of their own future,” Trump said. “In the years since, Jack has continued to offer his sage counsel to military and policy leaders and to visit our troops on the frontiers. And Jack, I have to say, has given me a lot of good advice too.”
Keane has not always agreed with Trump. He thought withdrawing U.S. forces from Syria was a strategic mistake, siding with former Defense Secretary James Mattis, who resigned over Trump’s decision. Keane contended that while the Islamic State was crushed during Trump’s presidency, his decision would “lose the peace by withdrawing.”
But Keane agreed with Trump’s decision to pull out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal negotiated during the Obama administration. Keane has felt that former U.S. presidents have coddled Tehran.
“General, you will be remembered as one of the finest and most dedicated soldiers in a long and storied history of the United States military. No question about it,” Trump said.
In 2003, Keane was offered the position of Army chief of staff, but Trump said he turned it down and left the Army after 38 years to care for his wife, Theresa, who was battling Parkinson’s disease.
Keane, 77, was born in Manhattan, New York. He earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Fordham University and a master’s degree in philosophy from Western Kentucky University. He later attended the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and the Army War College in Pennsylvania.
Keane was a paratrooper during the Vietnam War and later served in Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo. In 1991, Keane helped saved the life of former Army Gen. David Petraeus, who later became director of the CIA. Petraeus was accidentally shot during a live-fire exercise. “He had a hole about the size of a quarter in his back and is gushing with blood, and we stopped the bleeding and got him on a helicopter and got him to a surgeon,” Keane recalled in 2014.
He served as the chief operating officer of the Army for more than four years and directed 1.5 million soldiers and civilians in 120 countries. He was in the Pentagon when terrorists crashed a jetliner into the building on Sept. 11, 2001, an event Keane said had changed his life.
“I lost 85 Army teammates, lived the tragedy up close, attended scores of funerals,” Keane said.
“It was personal and I was angry. And despite having left the Army 17 years ago, I never left the 9/11 wars and America’s focus on radical Islam and what they did to us.”