Keller gets military citation at son’s promotion ceremony

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 24, 2000

LEONARD GRAY / L’Observateur / June 24, 2000

LULING – It was an early Father’s Day present of a sort for retired U.S.Army colonel, Richard Keller, when he attended ceremonies to promote his son to the rank of colonel.

He received a letter of recognition for his own heroism in the Solomon Islands against the Japanese during World War II, signed by General of the Army John Keane.

“I got the letter and just shoved it into my pocket,” Keller said. It’s nowframed and hanging in his home, along with a bronze medallion.

Keller, 82, was born at Home Place Plantation in Hahnville and inducted into the Army on Feb. 21, 1941, direct from his pre-med degree studies atLSU, where he also was commissioned a second lieutenant from his ROTC training.

He wanted to fight in Europe once the war broke out that December, but instead Keller was shipped out from San Francisco with Company G, 148th Infantry Division, to Fiji at the time of the Battle of Midway.

The “island-hopping” approach of assaulting Japan was in full swing. AsKeller described it, forces would land on an island just enough to establish an air base, then mop up any remaining Japanese resistance while forces moved on to the next island.

By this time, Capt. Keller took over Company E and led them into battle onHill 700 at Bougainville, Solomon Islands, on March 11-12, 1944.

Finally, on the second day (according to the official citation account), Keller mounted the final assault: “After all but one dominant fortification had been destroyed by riflemen, flame throwers, rocket launchers and grenades, he leaped over the crest of the hill into the face of the enemy and led a final, furious charge which ultimately overran the Japanese position and liquidated all enemy opposition. Although he was wounded critically in this last charge, hisheroic actions inspired his company to continue their devastating assault until the Japanese were annihilated.”For this, Keller received a Distinguished Service Cross and a Purple Heart.

On May 26, Keller joined his son, Rick, 49, in Washington D.C. on theoccasion of his son’s promotion to colonel. While there, Keller waspresented the letter by Surgeon General Ronald Blanck.

The younger Keller completed his high school years at Marion Military Institute in Alabama and graduated from the University of New Orleans, likewise with an ROTC commission.

Following in the military medicine footsteps originally planned by his father with his medical school education paid for by the Army, the younger Keller spent five years in Houma working as a dermatologist and later spent six months at Guantanomo Bay, Cuba, providing primary medical care for 20,000 internees. Now posted at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington,Keller is continuing his career.

In his postwar years the elder Keller completed his master’s degree in education, was the first counselor in St. Charles Parish Schools and taughtuntil his retirement in 1971.

Since then Keller’s been active in everything from Louisiana Senior Olympics (where he served on the first statewide board), St. CharlesCouncil on Aging and St. Charles Toy and Gift Fund. He also served a termon the St. Charles School Board and is currently working to preserve hisbirthplace.

However, the recent presentation to him by the Army was a fitting recognition to his career of sacrifice and service.

“All the old soldiers are getting recognized now,” Keller said wryly, “because they’re passing on.””I think it’s great!” commented his wife, Lorraine.

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