Sergeant Wilburn Doyle Keel

 

Unit : Medical Corps, 8th Infantry Division.

Served : North-West Europe (captured).

 

Wilburn Keel was born on the 14th March 1923 in Hartselle, Alabama, USA; the eldest of 8 children and the only son of John Wesley and Grace Newby Keel. He joined the US Army on the 17th June 1941, where he entered into the Medical Corps and received his training at Maxwell Field. In addition to the Medical Combat Badge, he wore the Good Conduct Medal, pre-Pearl Harbor Badge, and the ETO ribbon with two stars. His unit, the 8th "Golden Arrow" Infantry Division, was deployed to Europe and arrived on the Normandy Beaches on the 4th July 1944; until the end of the war they served on the Western Front. Wilburn Keel was captured on the 2nd April 1945.

 

Prisoner of War

 

'We were going through the woods, when we came under fire. One of our guys got shot. The rest of our unit went on. I fell back (being a medic) with him. I did all that I could for him. Giving him all the Morphine that I had. I felt bad because I couldn't do more for him. I heard the krauts coming, so I dragged him back into the thick brush, took his jewelry and money off of him, as well as off of myself and buried all of it under a big tree to keep them from looting his body (I didn't think he was gonna live). I covered him up with leaves and ran away from him, so that they would see me and not finish killing him. The Red Cross guys had already been radio-ed to come get him. I took off running away from him and away from the way in which the troop had gone, so that they would hopefully chase me and not them. I heard them holler stop or what I thought was stop in German. I turned around and threw my hands up so that they could see the red cross on my helmet. I wasn't armed. I didn't carry a pistol or any other type of weapon. They shot the arm pits out of my field jacket. I hit the dirt and covered up my head. That's how I got captured. I don't know what ever happened to poor {man} under the bushes. That's the last time I ever saw him.'

 

'They marched us, 24 hours a day. It seemed like they were just moving us from one place to another and marching us to keep us too tired to run. I learned how to sleep while marching. We would march and lean on the man next to us and sleep. We marched and marched and marched. One night, it was so cold, it was freezing. It was snowing and we were marching in the snow, deeper than you have ever seen it snow here (West Tennessee). I don't know why but all of us decided that we had had enough and stopped. They tried to get us to move, but none of us would. They threatened to shot all of us but I had decided that I wasn't going any farther. We all decided without saying it that they were going to have to shoot us, cause we were not going to march anymore that night. The krauts had on big, thick, long coats and furry hats and big tall black boots. We just had on what we had on whenever we got captured. There was a barn close to where we were stopped at. Somebody, one of us pointed at the barn and we all just started walking towards the barn. I guess they were tired and cold too because they followed us into the barn. I crawled up between the legs of a jersey cow, laying in a stall. That cow was the warmest body, I was ever close too. I didn't mind and she didn't seem to either.'

'I didn't get to shave or bathe or anything like that while in the prison camp. Every two or three days they would give us some old hard, stale bread to eat. That's all we got. I remember one time that I decided that I would make my bread last, so I just ate a little and put the rest in my pocket. I fell asleep. When I woke up, my bread was gone. I don't know who took it but I never wanted to kill one of my own fellows before. But if I could have found out who stole it, I thought that I would kill him. I never did find out who did it.'

'When we won the war, they just let us go. I just walked out of there. The first real thing I came up on was a winery. Me and some other guys broke in to it. Down in the basement was sugar! We ate and ate hands full of sugar. Just the sugar made us drunk! We took several cases of wine and hauled it out of there. After some time of walking, we came up on a jeep. We loaded the wine in and took off. We passed out wine to lots of men. I think everybody was drunk for miles. We ate a raw dead horse too. Horse meat is stringy. But I ate it and was glad to get it. I hope you never have to eat horse meat.'

 

Post-War Life

 

Following his liberation, Keel returned to his unit to cries of "Doc!!!! Here comes Keel!!!". After the war, he was employed by the Tennessee Valley Authority and worked in their construction division, building dams, power plants, setting electrical poles and lines. In 1954, he transferred from the construction division to the maintenance division in Jackson, TN, where he was a journeyman electrician, lineman and shop union foreman. Keel married Vivian Doris Manley and he was the father of five sons and four daughters. One of the daughters was named Ynette Cheri in remembrance of a French girl, lost and scared, that his unit happened across during the War, and having given her some food and water they took her to a nearby town. Wilburn loved to bird hunt, raise bird dogs (pointers), raise barrel racing horses, water ski and build hot rod cars. His greatest love was his large family and the USA, especially "the South", (Tennessee and Alabama).

 

Wilburn Keel died from a sudden heart attack on the 24th February 1979. He was laid to rest at the Hollywood Cemetery in Jackson. Two weeks after his death, his wife received a phone call from the wounded soldier whom Keel had tended to moments before his capture. He had been attempting to trace Wilburn for many years to thank him for saving his life, but sadly he went to his grave not knowing that the man had survived.

 

My thanks to Wilburn Keel's daughter, Lassie Kiser, for sending this story.

 

Return to POW Stories Menu