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A forgotten Adair Co. war hero: John Samuel Keen, late of Columbia
The United States posthumously awarded Adair Countian EM1c John Samuel Keen the Purple Heart, and his name appears on the Tablets of the Missing at Manila American Cemetery, Manila, Philippines. Though born in Cumberland County, he moved to Adair County as a youth and was a resident of Adair County when he joined the United States Navy.
On this date 75 years ago -- November 13, 1942 -- Adair County resident John Samuel Keen died halfway around the world in a war not of his making.
A native of Cumberland County, young Keen moved to Columbia in 1924 with the rest of his family: his father Travis, stepmom Lyda, sister Lou Sarah, and brothers Joe B. and Arnold. After Travis died in 1926, the others remained in Columbia and were enumerated as residents of High Street when the census taker came calling in the spring of 1930. By the time Lou Sarah died toward the end of July that year, however, John Samuel, then about 21, had joined the Navy.
Come December 1941, he was still in the Navy and by that time had advanced to Electrician's Mate First Class (EM1c). On the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, he was on leave, and he, his wife Teresa, and her daughter, were visiting his family in Columbia. He left shortly thereafter to return to his duty station; it's doubtful he ever returned to his adopted home town.
Thirteen months later, John Samuel, along with almost 700 shipmates perished when an enemy torpedo hit their ship, the USS Juneau, a light armored cruiser, near the Solomon Islands. It had already received damage from engagement with the enemy just hours earlier in the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal. Stated one source of the fatal hit,
"There was a terrific explosion; JUNEAU broke in two and disappeared in 20 seconds. The gallant ship with Captain Swanson and most of her crew, including the five Sullivan brothers, was lost."The captains of the other two ships with the Juneau, assuming no one survived the blast, made no attempt to render assistance. They were wrong; over 100 men escaped the explosion and sinking, but no rescue effort came for eight long days. By then, only a handful of men still lived. The rest were lost to exposure and shark attacks.
The United States posthumously awarded EM1c John Samuel Keen the Purple Heart, and his name appears on the Tablets of the Missing at Manila American Cemetery, Manila, Philippines.
However, his name was never inscribed on the monument memorializing Adair County's fallen soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines from World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.
"Nor wreck, nor change, nor winter's blight,
This story was posted on 2017-11-13 06:14:03
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