85th Infantry Division in World War II
The 85th Infantry Division in World War II

The Congressional Medal of Honor

Custer Division Staff Sergeant George D. Keathley
Company B, 338th Infantry, 85th Infantry Division
Sgt. George D. Keathley

Born in Olney, Texas, George D. Keathley was much tougher than he looked. During the 1930's, Keathley attended the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas (today's Texas A&M) and graduated in 1937. He entered service at Lamesa, Texas soon after his marriage in 1942 and joined the 338th Infantry at Camp Shelby, Mississippi that same year. His natural ability at leadership earned the soft-spoken Texan a promotion to corporal and eventually sergeant. By 1944 he was a staff sergeant and one of the leading non-commissioned officers in the 1st Platoon of B Company.

On September 14, 1944, the 338th was fully involved on the attack on Mount Altuzzo, the height that covered the west flank of Il Giogo Pass above Florence, Italy. A significant gap in the Gothic Line, the German parachutists that held this area were under orders to hold back the American assault at all costs. Despite the dense defense of mines and machine gun nests, B Company had advanced onto the western side of the mountain, knocking out numerous pillboxes and machine gun positions when they were pinned down by intense automatic weapons and mortar fire. Casualties were extremely heavy in the company, especially among the officers- all were dead or wounded. Within the hour, the remnants of the company- barely 20 men- were hit by German counterattacks. Staff Sergeant Keathley was the lone non-com remaining among the handful of Custermen on the barren hillside.

Citation: Staff Sergeant George D. Keathley, Company B, 338th Infantry, United States Army
"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 fifty 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 S/Sgt. Keathley, guide of the 1st platoon, moved up and assumed command of both the 2d and 3d platoons, reduced to twenty men. The remnants of the two platoons were dangerously low on ammunition, so S/Sgt. 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 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 fifteen 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 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."

(*General Order No. 20, United States War Department, 29 March 1945.)

Sgt. Keathley left behind a young wife and two infant daughters.

An alumni of Texas A&M University class of 1937, a bronze relief at the school's Corps of Cadets Center commemorates Keathley's service. Also in his honor, a hydrographic survey ship, the USS Sgt. George D. Keathley (T-AGS 35) was commissioned and launched in December 1944 and commissioned in 1966. The ship was stricken from service in 1976.

Sgt. Keathley rests in Plot D, Row 11, Grave #26 in the Florence American Cemetery at Florence, Italy.

 


338th Infantry in World War II

Custer Division The 85th Infantry Division in World War II
The Unofficial Webpages of the Polar Bear Association of World War II:
Veterans of 339th Infantry, 910th FA Bn, 310th Engineer Bn, & 310th Medical Bn

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