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Keefe family of Florence takes serving country to heart

Col. James Keefe, vice commander of the 104th Fighter Wing at Barnes Air National Guard Base in Westfield, speaks at Northampton's Veterans Day ceremony in Pulaski Park on Sunday.
KEVIN GUTTING

Col. James Keefe, vice commander of the 104th Fighter Wing at Barnes Air National Guard Base in Westfield, speaks at Northampton's Veterans Day ceremony in Pulaski Park on Sunday. KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

After all, it was the third time the featured speaker at the annual event had the last name of Keefe.

In fact, three different Keefes, all members of the same family, have spoken at the ceremony, held each year in Pulaski Park next to the city’s Memorial Hall.

The three Keefes — retired Maj. Gen. George W. Keefe and two of his sons, Brig. Gen. Gary W. Keefe and Col. James J. Keefe — live in Florence with their families. All of them have served in the Massachusetts Air National Guard. George W. Keefe spoke at 1998’s Veterans Day observance; Gary Keefe spoke in 2010. A third son, Army Lt. Col. Patrick Keefe, lives in Andover.

Between the four of them, they have put in close to 120 years of military service.

George Keefe logged 49 years in the military, enlisting in the Massachusettes Air National Guard in 1956, becoming the first Air National Guardsman to serve as adjutant general of the state.

Speaking recently from his home in Florene, he said he thought he was probably the reason his sons chose careers in the military.

“But I never pushed them,” he said.

He recalled a trip he took with his eldest son, Gary, to look at Norwich University, a military academy in Northfield, Vt., which Gary was interested in attending. On the way back home, George Keefe asked his son why he wanted to go there.

“He said, ‘If I go somewhere else, I’ll probably goof off,’ ” said George Keefe. All three of his sons ended up attending Norwich. A fourth son, Timothy, had set his sights on a military career when his wife’s death cut those plans short.

Has George Keefe had any career advice for his sons?

“Take care of your people and the rest is easy,” he said.

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