Randall Denison Keator was born August 21, 1917 in Campti in Louisiana. He attended Campti High School and graduated from Northwestern State College class of 1939. Nicknamed "Randy".
On September 9, 1940 he enlisted in the U. S. Army Air Corps (USAAC) at Barksdale Field in Louisiana as an aviation cadet with serial number 14014834. He underwent flight training in Oklahoma and Texas and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant. Afterwards, assigned to the 24th Pursuit Group, 20th Pursuit Squadron and sent oversea to the Philippines and was based at Clark Field on Luzon as a fighter pilot.
Defense of the Philippines
At the start of the Pacific War on December 8, 1941 took off from Clark Field at 12:35pm piloting a P-40B Warhawk as part of A Flight as wingman for flight leader Joe Moore with second element leader 2nd Lt. Edwin Gilmore. During their take off, Japanese bombs from G3M Nell bombers began falling on the runway area and prevented others from taking off. The three P-40s were on a mission to intercept incoming Japanese aircraft.
The P-40s climbed to roughly 20,000' to the west and attempted to intercept the bombers departing northward. The P-40s saw nine fighters approaching and assumed they were friendly but provided to be A6M2 Zeros and targeted Gilmore. Diving to attack, Moore and Keator made firing passes with Keator hitting a Zero scoring hits in its cockpit and engine and causing it to explode. As he opened fire, he was unaware the vibrations the guns caused and thought his plane was being hit. Circumstantial evidence points to him shooting down A6M2 Zero piloted by Hirose Yoshio, Maki chutai of the Tainan Kokutai. Afterwards, Keator was credited with his first and only confirmed aerial victory for the first Zero that exploded. This was the first Japanese aircraft shot down over the Philippines.
Immediately afterwards, a Zero got on his tail forcing Keator to dive away and slid in the cockpit because he had not fastened his seatbelt and blacked out before regaining consciousness in a climb then leveled out at 19,000'. Spotting a P-40B below diving on a Zero with another lining up to attack it. Keator dove down to attack the Zero and opened fire causing it to break off its attack and entered a climbing turn with the Zero until he was unable to sustain the turn and made a diving turn. Pulling up, he found himself alone and assumed the combat was over and flew back towards Clark Field. Spotting a fighter from the rear and identified it as Japanese and opened fire and claimed his tracers hit the tail and canopy causing the plane to burn and roll upside down and entered clouds.
Returning to Clark Field, he was unable to reach the tower on the radio and made two aborted landings due to debris and smoke. On the third pass, he managed to land at the edge of the runway between burning B-17s and landed undamaged. On the ground, personnel informed him that anti-aircraft guns had been firing at him while he circled thinking his P-40 was an enemy plane. Afterwards, Keator was credited with two aerial victories for this mission, his only victory credits during World War II.
On December 10 , 1941 Keator took off from Clark Field at 8:45am piloting a P-40E Warhawk as wingman for Joe Moore on a strafing mission over Vigan. Aside from studying the cockpit the night before, Keator had never flown a P-40E previously. Due to an overcast, the P-40s were unable to join formation and Keator alone proceeded to Vigan and made a single strafing pass on a Japanese transport the pulled out at low level and flew back towards base at full throttle to evade Japanese fighters and landed safely at 11:15am.
On December 22, 1941 took off from Clark Field predawn as one of six P-40s on a strafing mission against a Japanese convoy off Lingayen Gulf but aborted the mission. Returning, Clark Field had ground fog and instead he landed at Nichols Field at 7:30am low at fuel.
On December 24, 1941 eight pilots including Keator were ordered to FEAF Headquarters in Manila to meet Col. George but found he had already evacuated and instead met Captain Bud Sprague.
The pilots were ordered to fly in two Beech 18's to Australia then fly back in new aircraft. Instead they learned these aircraft were assigned to FEAF staff officers for their own evacuation. Afterwards, they were told to go to pier 7 to await transport to the Bataan Peninsula.
When there were no more P-40s left in the squadron, the surviving pilots including Keator were given rudimentary infantry training to serve as ground troops. In late January 1942, the pilots turned soldiers were tasked with bolstering the defenses of Longoskawayan Point on the Bataan Peninsula. Next, moved to Mariveles and then to Mariveles Airfield. On March 12, 1942 Keator watched Brig. Gen. Harold H. George evacuated aboard PT-32. Afterwards, Keator and other pursuit pilots were relocated to Del Monte Field on Mindanao.
On April 8, 1942 Keator was ordered to pilot one of three remaining P-35A at Bataan Airifeld on a mission to bomb and strafe approaching Japanese forces approaching from the north but was ordered to wait with only Dyess taking off. While waiting, a car approached with Ozzie Lunde from 5th Interceptor Command HQ arrived in a car and said he had orders to take the fighter southward to Iloilo. Keator exited the plane and asked if he could fly in the baggage compartment. After take off, Lunde released the bomb over Manila Bay to lighten the aircraft. After flying southward for three and a half hours, Lunde was unable to see any lights on the ground at Iloilo or Cebu and was running low on fuel and ditched into shallow water at a depth of roughly 3' off a small island around 2:00am. Both survived unhurt with Lunde suffering a cut above his eyebrow from hitting his head. Afterwards, the pair were spotted by Filipino locals and given food and taken to meet the mayor and learned they had landed off Leyte and a message was sent to U. S. forces on Mindanao to inform the pair was safe and were driven by two Philippine Constabulary to Tacloban.
On April 9, 1942 Beech piloted by Whitfield and Cummings took off from Cebu in the late morning on a flight to Tacloban Airfield to pickup Lunde and Keator and flew them to Mindanao.
On April 22, 1942 Keator, Coleman and Rowe was based at Maraman Airfield. On April 25, 1942 driven to Dalirig Airfield to fly reconnaissance missions and resided in a private house.
On April 26, 1942 Keator flew an afternoon reconnaissance mission from Dalirig Airfield over Cebu and Bohol spotting a Japanese force including six transports and two destroyers leaving Cebu and heading to the southeast.
On April 28, 1942 Keator, Coleman and Gerr were evacuated on an LB-30 being used as a transport to evacuate American personnel from Mindoro that departed at 11:30pm to Darwin on what proved to be the last evacuation flight of American personnel from the Philippines.
Defense of Darwin
Keator was evacuated to Australia he was assigned to the 49th Fighter Group and flew in the defense of Darwin. Assigned P-40E "The Spoddessape" 41-25178 that he nicknamed "The Spoddessape" (The Spotted Ape) in reference to pilot Keator's
description of how fast he left the Philippines, 'like a spotted ass
ape'. The right side of the aircraft had a pelican with a frog bombardier
and crayfish firing
a shotgun under the bird's wing and carrying a bomb in its feet, in reference to his home state of Louisiana.
New Guinea Campaign
Next, Keator was based at 3 Mile Drome (Kila) near Port Moresby and continued to fly combat missions over New Guinea. Between missions, he was an avid hunter, borrowing shotguns and rifles from his unit's armory
to hunt pigs and ducks to supplement their rations
with fresh meat.
Afterwards, he returned to the United States for leave home in Louisiana. On February 7, 1943 married his girlfriend Litha Davis and had three children.
Keator remained in the U. S. Air Force (USAF) and worked as engineer Air Force laboratories. In 1968 he retired with the rank of Colonel and lived in Lake Forest Hills, LA.
Keator passed away on February 4, 1981 and was buried at Forest Park East Cemetery in Shreveport, LA.
Keator's photograph, diary, Distinguished
Service Cross (DSC), dog tags and a comic book based on his service are displayed at the The National World War II Museum as part of a display about Randall B. Keator. Later, this display was revised displaying the same items.
Litha Keator (wife passed away 2012)
Litha Brady (daughter)
Rena Melton (daughter)
Dr. Randall D. Keator, II (son)
Amanda Keator (granddaughter of Keator)
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Randall D. Keator
USAF Credits for the destruction of Enemy Aircraft World War II [PDF] page 10 Keator
Doomed at the Start pages 72, 73, 98-100, 111-112, 119, 128, 140-141, 168-169, 183, 186, 193, 251, 267-268, 323, 341, 361-365, 370-373, 386 (April 9, 1942 rescue) 413-416, 432, 463 (footnote 10), 465 (footnote 3), 494 (index)
December 8, 1941 pages 311, 320, 360-361 (Japanese side), 362-364, 374, 386, 405, 497 (footnotes 13-16), 543 (index)
Protect & Avenge page 57 (photo), 87
Military Hall of Honor - Col Randall Denison Keator ID: 314336
"Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) citation: The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross to Randall D. Keator (0-412276), Second Lieutenant (Air Corps), U.S. Army Air Forces, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy while serving as Pilot of a P-40 Fighter Airplane in the 20th Pursuit Squadron, 24th Pursuit Group, FAR EAST Air Force, in aerial combat against enemy forces on 8 December 1941, at Clark Field, Philippine Islands. During the Japanese attack on Clark Airfield, Philippine Islands on this date, Second Lieutenant Keator braved falling bombs and strafing runs to become airborne in his P-40 fighter. He attacked three enemy fighters, shooting down two of them, and becoming the first American fighter pilot to claim a victory in the air war in the Philippine Islands. Second Lieutenant Keator's unquestionable valor in aerial combat is in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflects great credit upon himself, the Far East Air Force, and the United States Army Air Forces."
Shreveport Times "Obituary Randall Denison Keator" February 6, 1981 page 12-A
FindAGrave - Randall Denison Keator (photo, obituary)