Updated: Nov 21, 2021
Port Jervis veteran George Keller’s 30-year military career was “all fun” and something he would gladly do again, as relayed in the good-humored way of conversation with George.
Born in the Bronx, NY on September 28, 1941, Keller grew up in the Albany area. He describes himself as a “terrible student” who didn’t like school. Yet he went on to long careers in highly skilled positions. These included decades with the U.S. Navy, CBS Television, and with his continuing lifelong love of ham radio operation.
“I just wanted to play with my radios, and make them – with the idea of becoming a ham radio operator someday,” Keller said.
Despite his lack of interest in classwork and school studies, Keller continued on to complete a 30-year Naval career as an expert cryptologist, and more. His military position in cryptology (the study of codes; secret systems of words or numbers) came with top security clearances and assignments that to this day remain classified. He also worked 42-years with CBS Television, where he was in charge of video tape and editing systems and, again, transmissions.
Now retired from both his military and television careers, Keller has continued to enjoy his lifelong love of working with ham radios, a hobby begun in the third grade. He remains an active member in the Naval Cryptologist Veterans Association (NCVA) and ham radio organizations.
After high school, Keller earned his GED. He went on to study at the renowned electronics school, RCA Institutes, New York. It was the intense training received at RCA that equipped Keller to be directly placed as a cryptologist in the U.S. Navy.
“I was a draft dodger,” kidded Keller. “I was going to go with the Merchant Marine as a radio operator, as I have a license. Instead, I started in the Navy Reserve as they had an old WWII directive which stated if one has a ham radio license of the proper class he could enter as an RMS. This is equivalent to a CPL in the Army.”
After entering the Navy Reserve, Keller chose to go regular Navy, and later finished back in the Reserve. There were no additional specialized classes required by the Navy to place the then already-trained Keller right into a cryptologist assignment.
“I had no Navy training as after going to RCA Institute I had learned enough to get by with flying colors,” Keller said.
Keller served with the U.S. Navy from 1963-1993. He used his electronics and coding skills in positions in Bremerhaven, Germany, Royal Air Force (RAF) Edzell, Edzell, Scotland, Sabana Seca, Puerto Rico, Rota, Spain, California, Florida, Maine, Virginia, and National Security Agency, Ft. Meade, Maryland.
Much of what cryptologists did during their years of service remains confidential. While Keller did not serve directly in a war zone during his service, some of the areas where he was stationed had been war zones, such as Germany. He returned home safely, but many in his unit were among those killed or wounded in a devastating Israeli attack on the USS Liberty in 1967.
One, a friend of Keller’s and his wife Ann, Bryce Lockwood, has close connections to Port Jervis and stayed with the Kellers during past visits to the tri-state area. His parents once lived and worked in Port Jervis, as other relatives still do. Lockwood, a sole survivor of three Marines serving aboard the USS Liberty when it was attacked by Israel on June 8, 1967, has recently shared his story in the 2020 book ‘Liberty’s Wounds’.
“Thirty-four were killed, 25 right near me,” Lockwood said, pausing as he recalled the tragic aftermath of the 1967 attack. “I saw the torpedo coming in and somehow survived and was able to extract myself from the devastation.”
Lockwood went on to later serve in Vietnam, earned a Purple Heart and Silver Star for his actions during and after the 1967 attack on the Liberty, and became a pastor in his post-military life.
Reached at his current home in Missouri this week, Lockwood spoke highly of Keller and others with whom he served overseas. He recalled, also, fond memories of past visits to Port Jervis, where his parents – Iva Dewey Lockwood and Raymond Lockwood – lived in the 1920s and where his father worked at the Silk Mill Factory. His father’s sister (Lockwood’s aunt) Ethel Dewey Gill, cousins, and other relatives still work and live in Port Jervis today.
It is fellow shipmates, such as Lockwood, American military men and women currently serving, and those who were wounded or never made it home, that Port veteran Keller thinks about on Veterans and Memorial Day.
While both of George and Ann Keller’s sons are also veterans (one Navy, one Army (MP), George wishes there was no need for monuments such as those that beautifully line Port’s historic Orange Square.
“We shouldn’t need them,” Keller said. ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone who went over there and didn’t come home never had to leave in the first place?”