Staff Sergeant George D. Keathley, USA (September 14, 1944)

George Dennis Keathley was born on March 10, 1917 in Olney, Texas. He graduated from what is today known as Texas A&M University with their class of 1937. He entered the United States Army for World War II service in 1942. Keathley was an infantryman with Company B of the 1st Battalion, 338th Infantry Regiment.

85th Infantry “Custer Division” shoulder patch (Wikimedia Commons)

The 338th Infantry was assigned to the 85th Infantry Division, known as the “Custer Division” in honor of Major General George Armstrong Custer. They first entered combat in Italy by April 1944. On September 13, 1944, the 85th was part of the force that began the assault on the last Nazi string of defensive positions in Italy, the “Gothic Line”.

The following day on the slopes of Mount Altuzzo, Company B faced a determined counter-attack that left two rifle platoons with no leaders after they had become casualties. Staff Sergeant Keathley filled the leadership gap and rallied the men of the two platoons until he himself was cut down. Keathley’s leadership was credited with saving the platoons and preventing the enemy from regaining the position. He was posthumously decorated with the Medal of Honor.

From Medal of Honor Citations for World War II (G-L):


Photo: Military Times’ Hall of Valor


Rank and organization: Staff Sergeant, U.S. Army, 85th Infantry Division. Place and date: Mt. Altuzzo, Italy, 14 September 1944. Entered service at: Lamesa, Tex. G.O. No.: 20, 29 March 1945

Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at risk of life above and beyond the call of duty, in action on the western ridge of Mount Altuzzo, Italy. After bitter fighting his 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 3 desperate counterattacks in an effort to regain their former positions, but all 3 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 S/Sgt. 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 2 platoons were dangerously low on ammunition, so S/Sgt. Keathley, under deadly small arms and mortar fire, crawled from 1 casualty to another, collecting their ammunition and administering first aid. He then visited each man of his 2 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 2 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 S/Sgt. 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 S/Sgt. Keathley’s position and each time they were driven back, suffering huge casualties. Suddenly an enemy hand grenade hit and exploded near S/Sgt. 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 S/Sgt. 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. S/Sgt. Keathley died a few moments later. Had it not been for his indomitable courage and incomparable heroism, the remnants of 3 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.

Staff Sergeant George D. Keathley rests in peace with 4,401 comrades-in-arms in the Florence American Cemetery, Florence, Italy. A further 1,409 American warriors who were missing in action are also remembered there.


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