Everett Dennis Keaton
Captain, United States Army
The premonition struck Betty Keaton like a sniper's bullet. "I felt, 'Lord, something's wrong!' " she said. And then she began to pray. The year was 1969, and her husband, Army Captain Everett Dennis Keaton, was in Vietnam. On that day Captain Keaton was separated from his unit and bumped into a Viet Cong patrol. A brief firefight ensued.
Captain Keaton survived because the Viet Cong mistook him for one of their own, and he fired first, he said later. "He killed several of them, and the rest of them fled," Mrs. Keaton said. "Which was just the hand of the Lord. It wasn't his time to go."
The last premonition came in January 1970, she said. It was a dream. "I could see him on the ground," Mrs. Keaton recalled. "I could see his spirit separate from his body. And the Lord said, 'Don't worry. He's going with me.' "
Army documents say that on January 20, 1970, Captain Keaton led his company "through a dense nipa palm and jungle area suspected of being heavily booby-trapped." Worried about the safety of his point man, Captain Keaton positioned himself just behind him, the documents say.
"As they moved along a trail . . . the point man tripped a wire leading to an explosive device," the Army report says. "Instantly recognizing the sound of a grenade being detonated, Captain Keaton pushed the point man out of the way of the explosion and shielded his comrade from the blast with his own body."
Captain Keaton, 29, was killed. The Army awarded him a Silver Star posthumously. It was his second. He won the first December 12, 1969, when his men came under fire from an enemy bunker. "Captain Keaton raced through the hostile fusillade to deploy his men into positions to return fire on the enemy," the commendation says. "His coordination of artillery and air strikes enabled the friendly force to rout the enemy."
Captain Keaton was buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia. Last week, Mayor Blaine Beekman of Waverly, Ohio, read Army records of Captain Keaton's achievements and said, "We never knew . . . We'd all lost track of him. It's just amazing."
Captain Keaton was born and raised in Waverly, Ohio. He was known as "Butch." He left school at 17 to join the Army, and he worked his way up, going to Officer Candidate School and finishing first in his class in leadership. After his death, his fellow soldiers named their Vietnam base camp Camp Keaton. That was the honor that interested Ray A. Bows, a coin dealer and Vietnam veteran from Hanover, Massachusetts.
Bows wants to publish a book featuring a personal history of each hero for whom a Vietnam base camp was named. He telephoned The Dispatch because he could find nothing about Captain Keaton's Waverly background. When The Dispatch began asking in Waverly about the Captain Keaton who was a hero in Vietnam, nobody realized the hero was "Butch" Keaton.
Beekman is a local historian who wrote three volumes outlining the contributions of Pike County soldiers in World War II. After examining Captain Keaton's record, Beekman said, "There's no question he's our most decorated soldier. I guess the tragedy is, who would ever have known?"
In a telephone interview from her home in Leesville near Fort Polk Army Base in Louisiana, Mrs. Keaton said that when Captain Keaton received orders to go to Vietnam, "I prayed, 'Lord, if he's going over there, he's not coming back; I want to have something of him.' I want you to know, the next month, I learned I was pregnant."
Her husband did not fear death, she said. Just before he left for Vietnam, he turned down an offer by their pastor to pray for his safe return. She recalled her husband's words: "No. You pray that while I'm over there, somehow my men can see the Lord through me."
Captain Keaton's daughter, Elaina Denise Keaton,
living with her mother, was born in August 1970. That November, Captain
Keaton got leave from Vietnam to meet Mrs. Keaton and their baby in Hawaii.
Mrs. Keaton has a photograph of Captain Keaton holding Elaina, his Army
cap with captain's bars dwarfing the pink-gowned baby's tiny head. "That's
the first and only time he ever saw her or held her," Mrs. Keaton said.
Keaton, Everett Dennis
Date of Birth: 16 January 1941
Casualty Date: 20 January 1970
16 March 2002: This is Elaina Dennice Keaton, and I wish to thank you from the bottom of my heart for your posting on Daddy's wall. I want so much to meet and talk with men who knew him, but it is hard to locate them. If you come across any I wish you could give them my e-mail address firstname.lastname@example.org. Once again thank you I have so much pride for what my father has done and sacrificed for his country that words fail me. My heart goes out to all veterans and all the families of our lost.
Keaton asked me where I was from, and I quipped: "A little insignificant town in southern Ohio you never heard of, Chillicothe!" He laughed and said, "I was born and raised in Waverly!" Since I was a platoon leader in Charlie Company, I did not see Keaton frequently, but when I did, we discussed our families, hometowns and 'hillbilly values.' Captain Keaton, or Dennis, as he would insist I call him, was highly thought of by his men and his superiors.
One evening in November 1969 we were pondering our upcoming R&R in Hawaii with our wives. Dennis had a daughter, Denise, born in August 1969, and my son, Sean, was born in October. We were really debating whether to bring our newborns along when we reunited with our wives after an eight-month separation. Dennis chose to have Denise come with his wife when they met in late November. I chose to leave Sean with his grandparents when my wife met me over Christmas.
Dennis was killed in action January 20, 1970, after earning his second Silver Star. Why God allowed me to live with my wife, Sean, Seth, and the rest of my family and friends still haunts me. Dennis and many others were not as blessed. Dennis chose to take his daughter on R&R and that 4-month-old child would never know or see her father again.
Several years ago I read an article in The Columbus Dispatchtitled, "Pike County's Most Decorated Veteran." It was Captain Everette Dennis Keaton. There was a picture of his wife and a small child, Denise,holding his decorations. The 6/31st Infantry, 9th Division base camp was named "Camp Keaton" in honor of his heroism. I contacted Mrs. Keaton years later and was told the tragic story of Denise's abuse by a stepfather and a marriage to an abusive spouse, who during a drunken spree shot and killed her son, Dennis. The tragedy of Vietnam continues.
A few weeks later an author who was writing a book on the soldiers in Vietnam who had base camps named in their honor contacted me about my recollections of Keaton. I decided I was long overdue to meet Dennis' family in Pike County
This is when perhaps the greatest tragedy occurred. The community and veterans of Pike County chose not to honor Keaton, their most highly decorated veteran, for indiscretions in the family that occurred before Dennis' birth! Dennis joined the Army at 17 and left the community that scorned him, to serve valiantly and die for his country.
Captain Dennis Keaton is buried in Arlington National Cemetery less than 50 yards from President Kennedy's grave. The greatness of this country lies in the fact a soldier from Waverly is buried in our most prestigeous national cemetery near our other national heroes.
These are the facts of my experiences with Captain Dennis Keaton. I obviously do not have all the facts of his history before he entered the Army, nor what took place after his death, but one fact is simple. He was a true American hero from Pike County. The rest is tripe and cannot demean his honor.
Dan Kelley, Chillicothe, Ohio
DATE OF BIRTH: 01/16/1941
DATE OF DEATH: 01/20/1970
BURIED AT: SECTION 30 SITE 2229
ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY
Posted: 27 January 2002
Updated: 18 February 2002
Updated: 8 March 2003
Silver Star (2)