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First Name: George

Last Name: Keene

Birthplace: Crockett, TX, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Army (1784 - present)

Middle Name: Lawson

Date of Birth: 21 September 1898

Date of Death: 20 October 1956

Rank: Lieutenant Colonel

Years Served:
George Lawson Keene

•  World War I (1914 - 1918)


George Lawson Keene
Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Army *

* Conflict as to Rank

Almost all information located for George Lawson Keene lists his highest rank as Sergeant. Yet, the photo above shows him in an officer's uniform wearing what appears to be the silver oak leaf of a lieutenant colonel and the crossed rifles of an Infantry Officer. Further, the brochure given to visitors to the Houston County (Texas) Historical Commission states: "In 1940, the 76th Congress authorized President Roosevelt to present America’s highest military decoration, the Medal of Honor, to Colonel George Lawson Keene." [See Medal of Honor Recipient: True or False below.] In addition, the brochure contains this statement: "When World War II broke out, Lawson tried to re-enlist. Because of his age and his injuries suffered in the previous war, there was no way he could serve again.The former Army sergeant could sit by and do nothing while his country was at war." Nothing is written about Keene ever receiving a commission in the U.S. Army or mentioning how he could have served long enough to attain the rank of lieutenant colonel. But, because of the photo and the references to Keene being a colonel, this Honoree Record will list him as a Lieutenant Colonel in the event that it might have been the highest rank he attained.

The Early Years

George Lawson Keene was born on 21 September 1898 in Crockett, TX, the son of Abner Lawson and Laura Woodson Keene. His mother, a great-niece of General Stonewall Jackson, died when he was three years old.

Lawson, as he was known around Crockett, loved stories of history and heroes, especially ones told by his grandfather, a veteran of the Confederate Army. His great-grandfather, Edward Keene, was a participant in the Texas Revolution. His early ancestors settled in Kentucky and founded the renowned horse farm, “Keeneville,” where the original home was built in 1800.

After graduating from high school at age 16, Lawson's plan was enter his father’s alma mater, Texas A&M College. However, the entry of the United States in World War I changed that plan.

World War I

Lawson decided his duty was to his country when the U.S. entered WWI. Knowing his son's courage and love of country, his father gave his consent and Lawson went to San Antonio, TX, to enlist as a private. After much persuasion, he was transferred to the 28th Infantry Regiment, American Expeditionary Force (AEF) and sent overseas. He was reputedly the first and youngest American combat soldier to set foot on French soil and one of the last to leave, serving in the Army of Occupation at the end of the war.

Keene was stationed in the front lines for 26 months, 3 weeks and 2 days, taking part in five major engagements. He was wounded seven times and was gassed in the battle of the Argonne Forest. After beginning the campaign on the Western Front with the 28th Infantry at Soissons and Cantigny, he was with the Regiment when it routed the German infantry on the edge of Belleau Wood near Vaux, and also took part in the St. Mihiel Campaign of the First Division.

Whenever receiving an order to attack, many Americans fell before the devastating fire of the Germans as they answered the call of “over the top.” When officers were killed, non-commissioned officers assumed command and, on 18 July 1918, Sergeant George L. Keene was one of those NCOs. He led the group across a creek and through barbed wire on the opposite bank. After identifying his troops to American planes flying overhead, Keene ordered his detail to rush the enemy emplacements on the bluff ahead. He lobbed a grenade into a German machine gun nest, killing and wounding many of the gunners. When the weapon was silenced, the Americans charged the position but a surviving German officer raised his pistol and aimed it at Lawson, who quickly knocked the gun to the ground with his rifle butt. The German then surrendered to SGT Keene, who found many maps and diagrams on his prisoner that would be useful to the advancing American and French troops. As the battle continued, Keene noticed a wrecked tank nearby. He ran to the tank through the enemy fire and salvaged the machine gun and ammunition, which he used to cover the advance of another platoon. When ammunition ran low, Lawson remembered that more was available on the other side of the creek, so he returned for it. They then continued to cover the American advance. The tide of the battle was turned and the Germans were in retreat.

The following day, 19 July, SGT Keene took command of the company after the lieutenant was wounded. His company held its objective until relieved by the kilted Scottish Highlanders, the so-called “Ladies from Hell.” This was the farthest advance made by American troops at that time. The next day saw the Allies in command of Soissons, an important railroad center. These engagements at Soissons were part of the Second Battle of the Marne, considered the turning point of World War I.

Post-Military Life

After his return home, on 11 November 1921, Lawson married Dewey Kennedy and they built a home in Baytown, TX. Although he was considered by some to be the most-decorated American soldier of World War I, Keene was modest about his achievements. [There is a dispute among historians as to whether Keene, or the legendary Sergeant Alvin York, was the most-decorated soldier of WWI.] He was a member of the Legion of Valor, a service organization founded by Civil War veterans in 1890. A requirement of membership is being a recipient of either the Medal of Honor or the Distinguished Service Cross. Copies of the original citations for Keene’s medals were placed in the Hall of Fame.

Except for his closest friends, few people knew that Lawson Keene had served in World War I and was compared by many with the famous Sergeant Alvin York. Although his combat story was every bit as dramatic as York’s, most people just didn’t know about it. He never talked about his heroics on the fields of France, and Hollywood never made a movie about him. And while some historians argued that Keene, instead of York, was the most decorated, he never made an issue of it. He was a man who lived in the present and, never dwelled on the past.

When the U.S. entered World War II, Lawson tried to re-enlist in the Army. Because of his age and the injuries he sustained in the previous war, there was no way he could serve again. So, the former Army sergeant had to sit by and do nothing while his country was at war. He closed his jewelry business and went to work for the local General Tire and Rubber Co. plant, where synthetic rubber was being produced for the war effort.

Lawson also served on the draft board, led civil defense activities, chaired the military affairs committee of the Goose Creek Chamber of Commerce and played a key role in obtaining the local National Guard Armory.

Medal of Honor Recipient: True or False

Some prominent sources claim that Keene received the MOH; the Baytown Sun (Texas) edition of 19 July 1981 claims he received one and, on 22 November 2014, the Covington News (Georgia) made the same claim. The brochure given to public visitors to the Houston County (Texas) Historical Commission contains the following: "In 1940, the 76th Congress authorized President Roosevelt to present America’s highest military decoration, the Medal of Honor, to Colonel George Lawson Keene."

However, according to Laura Lowdy, archivist at the Congressional Medal of Honor Society (CMOHS), Keene never received the Medal of Honor. "General Orders No. 5, 1937, presented Keene with the DSC, not the MOH," she said. [See the DSC Citation below.] "This is the same general order that is cited when people say he received the MOH." [A visit to the CMOHS website at http://www.cmohs.org/, will show that Keene is not listed as a MOH recipient.]

Keene's courage and valor is unquestioned; that is reflected by his being awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. But the erroneous claim that he was awarded the MOH should not be perpetuated, as it is easy to disprove. [Source: VFW Magazine, November-December 2011, page 39-40.]

Medals and Awards

Distinguished Service Cross
Silver Star Medal with Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster **
Purple Heart with Silver and Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster **
World War I Victory Medal
Occupation of Germany World War I Medal

** Although the current Silver Star Medal was not awarded until 1932 [See the Silver Star Citation below], it is used here because most readers are familiar with the medal and what it represents. The same is true of the Purple Heart medal that was first used on 22 February 1932.

Foreign Awards

Cross of Honor
French Croix de guerre with Palm
Knights of Verdun
Tadac St. Mihiel
French Commemorative Medal

Two of the French decorations were awarded to him by Marshal Ferdinand Foch personally.

Distinguished Service Cross Citation

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 9, 1918, takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross to Corporal George L. Keene (ASN: 58296), United States Army, for extraordinary heroism in action while serving with Company K, 28th Infantry Regiment, 1st Division, A.E.F., near Soissons, France, July 18 - 19, 1918. Corporal Keene, then acting sergeant, rendered splendid assistance to his commanding officer in helping him to organize and lead a group of American and French Colonial soldiers against an enemy strong point located in a rock quarry on high ground. During the attack, Corporal Keene was in command of the troops on the right flank, and in storming the position, he rushed forward at the head of his men, hurled a hand grenade in the trenches, subdued one of the most difficult posts of the enemy position and personally captured an officer on whom was found important maps of the enemy positions. On the second day, Corporal Keene served in the capacity of an officer by commanding a company in the first wave of the attack formation and when his battalion commander became wounded he rendered valuable aid in assisting in maintaining control of formations until the objective was reached.

General Orders: War Department, General Orders No. 5, 1937

Silver Star Citation

By direction of the President, under the provisions of the act of Congress approved July 9, 1918 (Bul. No. 43, W.D., 1918), Sergeant George L. Keene (ASN: 58296), United States Army, is cited for gallantry in action and a silver star may be placed upon the ribbon of the Victory Medals awarded him. Sergeant Keene distinguished himself by gallantry in action while serving with Company K, 28th Infantry Regiment, 1st Division, American Expeditionary Forces, in action northeast of Exermont, France, 9 October 1918, while remaining in command of his platoon, although suffering from the effects of gas.

General Orders: War Department, General Orders No. 68 (1920)


George Lawson Keene received commendations from General Charles P. Summerall, General John J. Pershing and Senator Tom Connally. Other letters in his files are from Generals MacArthur and Buck; Presidents Wilson, Truman and Roosevelt, who awarded Keene a Certificate of Service; Governors Sterling, Allred, Jester and Shivers, and Congressman Albert Thomas. But the most prized letters of all were those from his Army buddies.

Death and Burial

George Lawson Keene died on 20 October 1956 in Houston, TX. He is buried at Earthman Memory Gardens in Baytown, Harris County, TX.

[The source of most of the data included in this biography, although it may be rewritten from a military researcher's point of view, is a brochure given to the public at the Houston County (Texas) Historical Commission in the Courthouse Annex.]

Honoree ID: 310895   Created by: MHOH




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