Printed from:

Welcome to Columbia Magazine  

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,
Nor Time's remorseless doom,
Shall dim one ray of glory's light
That gilds your deathless tomb."
From "Bivouac of the Dead," Theodore O'Hare

This story was posted on 2017-11-13 06:14:03
Printable: this page is now automatically formatted for printing.
Have comments or corrections for this story? Use our contact form and let us know.

Advertisement: Thanks to Special Sponsors.

The Adair County Veterans List is made possible by the following:

The three locally owned Steve McKinney NAPA Auto Parts stores. There's one near you at:

411 Campbellsville St., Columbia, 270-384-2141

NAPA AUTO PARTS - Campbellsville
1050 New Columbia Road, 270-465-5671

NAPA AUTO PARTS - Russell Springs, KY
2263 Lakeway Drive, 270-866-4787

Bank of Columbia
144 Public Square, Columbia, Kentucky 42728, 270-384-6433

To add become a sponsor of the Veteran's List, please contact using any Contact/Submit button. Be sure to send contact information so we can contact you.


Quick Links to Popular Features

Looking for a story or picture?
Try our Photo Archive or our Stories Archive for all the information that's appeared on


Contact us: Columbia Magazine and are published by D'Zine, Ltd., PO Box 906, Columbia, KY 42728.
Phone: 270.403.0017

Please use our contact page, or send questions about technical issues with this site to All logos and trademarks used on this site are property of their respective owners. All comments remain the property and responsibility of their posters, all articles and photos remain the property of their creators, and all the rest is copyright 1995-Present by Columbia! Magazine and D'Zine, Ltd. Privacy policy: use of this site requires no sharing of information. Voluntarily shared information may be published and made available to the public on this site and/or stored electronically. Anonymous submissions will be subject to additional verification. Cookies are not required to use our site. However, if you have cookies enabled in your web browser, some of our advertisers may use cookies for interest-based advertising across multiple domains. For more information about third-party advertising, visit the NAI web privacy site.