George Dennis Keathley, Medal of Honor recipient, was born on November 10, 1907, the son of William F. and Bertha Mary (Leberman) Keathley, near Olney, Young County, Texas. A native of Tennessee, William Keathley moved to Texas to teach in a one-room school where his future wife was one of his students. After his wife inherited her German-immigrant parents’ 640-acre farm, William took up farming and raised cattle, hogs, cotton, and wheat. As youngsters, George and the other Keathley children found themselves doing numerous chores on the farm.
Before graduating from high school in Olney, George Keathley moved to Lawton, Oklahoma, to live and work for his older brother. John Keathley ran a meat market on the Fort Sill Military Reservation and provided work for his younger brother. Keathley graduated from high school in Lawton and then enrolled at Cameron State School of Agriculture and Junior College (now Cameron University). He graduated from Cameron State in May 1930 with an associate degree in agriculture. In the fall of 1933 Keathley entered Texas A&M where he majored in agriculture and selected the cavalry branch for his military science requirement. Working his way through college, Keathley experienced economic problems that forced him to leave school in the spring of 1935; he later attended summer sessions in 1936, 1939, and 1940. He found employment with the Soil Conservation Service first in Dalhart and then in Lamesa and worked with the Civilian Conservation Corps on soil-erosion and other projects. While in Lamesa, he met Inez Edmunson. They married on April 12, 1942. He also became a stepfather to Inez’s two daughters.
Keathley joined the United States Army in Lamesa on May 15, 1942. Assigned to the 338th Infantry Regiment, Eighty-fifth Infantry Division, Keathley completed his basic and infantry training at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, and took part in his unit’s maneuvers in Louisiana and South Carolina. From June through August 1943, Keathley participated in desert training in California. Although soft spoken, Keathley adapted to military training, and his leadership abilities earned him promotions to corporal, sergeant, and staff sergeant. On January 2, 1944, the Eighty-fifth Infantry Division arrived in French Morocco, North Africa.
After a period of amphibious training, the 338th Infantry Regiment landed at Naples, Italy, on March 27, 1944. Over the next several months, Staff Sergeant Keathley witnessed the horrors of combat in Italy and earned a Bronze Star for directing his platoon after its platoon leader had been wounded. On June 5, Keathley experienced the liberation of Rome as the regiment entered the city.
On September 14, 1944, Keathley’s company found itself in a bitter confrontation with German defenders on the western ridge of Mount Altuzzo in northern Italy. The Germans had established pillboxes, minefields, and tank barriers in the region. After all the noncommissioned officers and officers of the Second and Third platoons in Company B became casualties, Keathley, a guide for the First platoon volunteered to take command of the two platoons’ twenty survivors. Aware that his men were low on ammunition, Keathley crawled from one casualty to another taking their ammunition. He then proceeded to distribute the valuable ammunition to each man, provide encouragement, and administer first aid. Assisted by a mortar barrage, the Germans launched a counterattack using hand grenades and firing automatic weapons. Keathley continued to shout orders, and his men responded in kind. After suffering a mortal wound to his left side from an enemy grenade, Keathley continued to provide direction to his men while firing his rifle at the enemy. Supported with friendly artillery fire, the Americans held their position as the Germans withdrew. Minutes later, Staff Sergeant Keathley died on the battlefield in the arms of his close friend Charles Dozier. His final words: “Please write my wife a letter and tell her I love her and I did everything I could for her and my country. So long, Dozier. Give’em hell for me. I’m done for.” Along with the remains of 4,402 other Americans, George Keathley is buried in the Florence American Military Cemetery. For his “indomitable courage and incomparable heroism” at Mount Altuzzo, Maj. Gen. Bruce Magruder presented Inez Keathley her husband’s posthumous Medal of Honor at Camp Wolters, Texas, on April 11, 1945.
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 paid tribute to its former student by naming its Reserve Officers Training Corps Drill Team the “Keathley Rifles.” A troopship, USNS George D. Keathley, was named after the Texan in 1949. In Lamesa, the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post is named after its former resident. At Texas A&M, Keathley’s original Medal of Honor, Bronze Star, and Purple Heart are displayed beneath a bronze plaque in the Sam Houston Sanders Corps of Cadets Center. Texas A&M also named a dormitory after its former student.