Sergeant Major George Dennis Keathley, hero of the Altuzzo, Medal of Honour

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the editorial team

George D. before the War

Sergeant George Dennis Keathley was a soldier of great valor, who served in the United States Army during World War II, fighting and dying in Italy. Born on November 10, 1907 in Olney, Texas, Keathley demonstrated tremendous courage and leadership skills that earned him a place in history at the Battle of Giogo Pass (Mount Altuzzo) to break through the Gothic Line.

George Keathley attended the school in his youth Olney High School, followed by Cameron Junior College (now Cameron University) in Lawton, Oklahoma. In 1933 Keathley was also enrolled in the Texas A&M University in 1933 to obtain a degree in Agriculture. He was a member of Troop D, cavalry of the Corps of Cadets of that school. But for financial reasons he nevertheless retired from A&M, working for a time for the Soil Conservation Service, where he oversaw soil erosion projects.

He graduated in 1937 from TA&MU.

In 1942 he married Inez Edmunson; they had two daughters.

Medal of Honour recipient GEORGE D. KEATHLEY
Medal of Honour recipient GEORGE D. KEATHLEY

Recruitment and training

  • In 1942 George Keathley enlisted in the United States Army from Lamesa, Texas. He was assigned to the 338th Infantry Regiment of '85th “Custer” Division.
  • Training begins at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, under the command of Major General Wade H. Haislip.
  • In 1943 Keathley was promoted to Sergeant Major, Platoon Commander.
  • In April 1943, the 85th Division participates in large-scale military training in the Louisiana maneuvers, near Leesville.
  • In August, the Division is transferred to Camp Coxcomb, California, for desert warfare training.
  • The final tests were at Fort Dix, New Jersey, in preparation for the Division's move to Europe as part of the 5thth Army US.
  • The 85th “Custer” Division left the United States on 24 December 1943, arriving in Casablanca, Morocco, for deployment to the Mediterranean fronts, on 2 January 1944.
Uomini dell'85a Divisione "Custer" in addestramento in California nell'agosto 1943
Men of the 85th "Custer" Division in training in California in August 1943

His action on Monte Altuzzo

As leader of the 1st Platoon, Company B, of the 338th Regiment of '85th “Custer” Infantry Division,  George Dennis Keathley was mortally wounded near Monte Altuzzo, Italy, on 14 September 1944, while leading two platoons, decimated in clashes against German paratroopers defending the Gothic Line. The attack on the firing line had lasted for two days, with fighting under the crossfire of German machine guns. All the officers and non-commissioned officers were dead. The platoons led by Sergeant Major Keathley were severely outnumbered and dangerously low on ammunition.

Under the deadly fire of mortars and automatic weapons, Sergeant Major Keathley, on the difficult battlefield, crawled towards the victims, among the dead and wounded soldiers, giving them first aid. He collected the unused ammunition and distributed it to the remaining members of the platoons he led. Although mortally wounded in the abdomen, he continued to give orders inciting his men to fight for a quarter of an hour. Thanks to his valor the enemy was forced to retreat, leaving behind many dead and wounded.

Sergeant Major Keathley died a few minutes later. Without his indomitable courage and inspired leadership, the remnants of three platoons of Company B might have been annihilated.

La menzione nei documenti ufficiali

Fallen in battle: the mention of the Medal of Honor

The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pride in presenting the Medal of Honor (Posthumously) to Staff Sergeant George D. Keathley (ASN: 30185361), United States Army, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at risk of life above and beyond the call of duty on 14 September 1944, while serving with Company B, 85th Infantry Division, in action on the western ridge of Mount Altuzzo, Italy. After bitter fighting Staff Sergeant Keathley’s company had advanced to within 50 yards of the objective, where it was held up due to intense enemy sniper, automatic, small arms, and mortar fire. The enemy launched three desperate counterattacks in an effort to regain their former positions, but all three were repulsed with heavy casualties on both sides. All officers and noncommissioned officers of the 2d and 3d platoons of Company B had become casualties, and Staff Sergeant Keathley, guide of the 1st platoon, moved up and assumed command of both the 2d and 3d platoons, reduced to 20 men. The remnants of the two platoons were dangerously low on ammunition, so Staff Sergeant Keathley, under deadly small arms and mortar fire, crawled from one casualty to another, collecting their ammunition and administering first aid. He then visited each man of his two platoons, issuing the precious ammunition he had collected from the dead and wounded, and giving them words of encouragement. The enemy now delivered their fourth counterattack, which was approximately two companies in strength. In a furious charge they attacked from the front and both flanks, throwing hand grenades, firing automatic weapons, and assisted by a terrific mortar barrage. So strong was the enemy counterattack that the company was given up for lost. The remnants of the 2d and 3d platoons of Company B were now looking to Staff Sergeant Keathley for leadership. He shouted his orders precisely and with determination and the men responded with all that was in them. Time after time the enemy tried to drive a wedge into Staff Sergeant Keathley’s position and each time they were driven back, suffering huge casualties. Suddenly an enemy hand grenade hit and exploded near Staff Sergeant Keathley, inflicting a mortal wound in his left side. However, hurling defiance at the enemy, he rose to his feet. Taking his left hand away from his wound and using it to steady his rifle, he fired and killed an attacking enemy soldier, and continued shouting orders to his men. His heroic and intrepid action so inspired his men that they fought with incomparable determination and viciousness. For 15 minutes Staff Sergeant Keathley continued leading his men and effectively firing his rifle. He could have sought a sheltered spot and perhaps saved his life, but instead he elected to set an example for his men and make every possible effort to hold his position. Finally, friendly artillery fire helped to force the enemy to withdraw, leaving behind many of their number either dead or seriously wounded. Staff Sergeant Keathley died a few moments later. Had it not been for his indomitable courage and incomparable heroism, the remnants of three rifle platoons of Company B might well have been annihilated by the overwhelming enemy attacking force. His actions were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service.

Il Mag. Gen. Bruce Magruder consegna la medaglia d'onore al sergente. La vedova di George Keathley, Inez, a Camp Wolters vicino a Mineral Wells l'11 aprile 1945. Per gentile concessione di Fort Worth Star-Telegram Collection, UTA Libraries Digital Gallery , Università del Texas ad Arlington, e incluso in conformità con il titolo 17 USC, sezione 107 .
Maj. Gen. Bruce Magruder presents the Medal of Honor to Sgt. George Keathley's widow, Inez, at Camp Wolters near Mineral Wells on April 11, 1945. Courtesy of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram Collection, UTA Libraries Digital Gallery, University of Texas at Arlington, and included in accordance with the title 17 USC, section 107.

Sergeant Major Keathley rest in peace…

Keathley, 36 years old at the time of his death, is buried in the American Battlefield Monument Commission Cemetery in Faciani, near Florence, Italy.

His legacy

George Dennis Keathley's heroism has been honored in many ways.

  • In Lawton, Oklahoma, the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post is named in his honor.
  • Cameron College has paid tribute to its former student by naming its Reserve Officers' Training Corps the "Keathley Rifles".
  • A naval ship, the USNS George D. Keathley , named after the Texan sergeant in 1949.
  • In Lamesa, the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post is named for its former resident.
  • At Texas A&M, Keathley's original Medal of Honor, Bronze Star and Purple Heart are displayed under a bronze plaque in the Sam Houston Sanders Corps of Cadets Center.
  • Texas A&M also named the Keathley Hall dormitory at Texas A&M University after its former student.

Bibliography

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