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George Keeney, of New Windsor, Vietnam vet who recently got an Air Medal 57 years after combat, dies

George Keeney, who served in the Vietnam War and is now in hospice care at his humble New Windsor rancher Monday June 19, 2023. (Baltimore Sun Staff/TNS)

George Thomas Keeney, a Vietnam War veteran who was recently celebrated by local officials for finally receiving a long-delayed Air Medal, a military decoration awarded for single acts of heroism or meritorious achievement while participating in aerial flight, died at his New Windsor home Aug. 18. He was 76.

Mr. Keeney’s death, from heart failure and prostate cancer, came about two months after he received his Air Medal, an award he was due to get from the U.S. Army in November 1966.

Mr. Keeney served in the Army six years, and was sent to Vietnam in 1966, where he served two years. He was also in the U.S. Army Reserve and was an Army sergeant E5 with the 229th Aviation Battalion when he was discharged.

He and his family said his battle with cancer and heart failure was a byproduct of his time as a helicopter crew chief, spreading the toxic chemical herbicide Agent Orange on the fields and jungles of Vietnam.

On June 19, Mr. Keeney was honored by state Sen. Justin Ready, who represents both Carroll and Frederick counties, and Carroll County Commissioner Tom Gordon III during a ceremony in Mr. Keeney’s living room. Jason R. Sidock, executive director of the Carroll County Veterans Independence Project, a nonprofit organization that provides services to veterans, also attended and presented a Welcome Home Vietnam Veteran coin to Mr. Keeney.

“Getting the opportunity to meet and be part of helping Mr. Keeney with receiving his much-deserved Air Medal from his service in Vietnam has been something I will never forget,” Mr. Sidock said. “We have not been short on wars and conflicts, and as a nation we must never forget those who came before us in the defense of this great nation. Mr. Keeney is a true hero for his exemplar service in Vietnam.”

The Air Medal is for the 25 aerial missions Mr. Keeney participated in over the Republic of Vietnam from July 29 to Aug. 9, 1966. The Air Medal is a military decoration of the U.S. Armed Forces, established by an executive order that was signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on May 11, 1942.

Mr. Keeney was born Nov. 8, 1946 to the late Norman Dorsey Keeney and Virgie Delaphine Baugher Keeney.

He was the husband of the late Grace Kathleen Baumgardner Keeney, his wife of 50 years.

Mr. Gordon said he was saddened to learn of Mr. Keeney’s death.

“I was honored to attend the visitation of this American hero,” Mr. Gordon said. “Meeting with George and being part of the presentation of his Air Medal after a 57-year delay was one of the proudest and most rewarding moments of my time as commissioner. To see his joy and be part of the long-awaited celebration for a well-deserved honor was [more] heartwarming and inspiring than I could ever articulate.”

Survivors include daughters Belinda Eaton and husband Michael of Westminster; Pamela Hartwell and husband Kenneth of Cumberland; and Ann Martin and partner Mike Mussenden of Crownsville; grandchildren Kellie and Quinten Eaton, Alexander “Thomas” Martin, Ethan Mussenden and Tara Hartwell; great-grandchildren Scarlett, Hennessey and Brindle; as well as many nieces, nephews, extended family members and friends.

In addition to his wife and parents, Mr. Keeney was preceded in death by a daughter, Christina Kay Keeney; brothers William, Norman, Oscar, Earl “Jim” and John; and sisters Helen, Lillian, Rosey and Nellie.

Mr. Keeney worked at Western Maryland College for more than 30 years, retiring at the age of 55. He loved tinkering with lawn mowers, hunting, fishing and spending time with his family.

Belinda Eaton said her dad died peacefully at home, surrounded by his daughters.

“He was the best dad in the world,” she said. “All us girls were around his bed, and he would not go until he knew us girls would take care of each other, and we told him we would.”

Ms. Eaton said her dad was proud to have served his country, but because he did not receive his Air Medal 57 years ago, he thought his time in Vietnam didn’t matter to the Army. The day he finally received the medal is something the family will never forget.

“The smile on his face meant the most to us girls,” she said. “He thought he didn’t matter, and then he did.”

Graveside services were held at St. James Cemetery in New Windsor on Aug. 24.


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