McKeown, John A. (644th)

Jack A. McKeown 1John A. McKeown

Biography:  John Albert McKeown was born on April 17, 1918, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was one of three children, two girls one son, born to John McKeown and Jane Blackburn Anderson. He attended local schools in Collingdale through the grammar level.

After leaving school, he found work as a shipping clerk at Fels and Company, which was a soap manufacturer.

Service Time:  John entered the service on November 14, 1941, at New Cumberland, PA. After his initial training, he was eventually assigned to Company B of the 644th Tank Destroyer Battalion. We believe he was with them at Fort Lewis, Washington, where they were tasked with guarding the Pacific coastline.

The unit received additional training at Camp Hood, Texas, before moving back north to Fort Lewis and then onto various bases in Oregon, including Glass Buttes, where they participated in maneuvers with the IV Corps.

While on leave in 1943, John retuned to Collingdale and married the former Elinor Fay Gerber, who was born in Camden, New Jersey and was the daughter of Julius R. Gerber and Fayetta M. Sharp.

The 644th traveled to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, for final preparations before shipping out on January 2, 1944, from the New York port. They arrived at Gourock, Scotland, on January 12th and after a few months of additional training, they boarded transports and landed at Utah Beach, France, on July 11th and 12th. They were equipped with M10 tank destroyers and were committed to battle south of Le Haye Du Puits with the 8th Infantry Division on July 15th.

They participated in the Cobra breakout beginning on July 26th and advanced into Brittany in August. They helped capture Brest in early September and then moved to Luxembourg in late September, fighting in the Hürtgen Forest in November. Companies A and C moved to the northern Ardennes sector by early December and participated in the Battle of the Bulge, with Company B arriving late in the game, joining in the elimination of the Bulge in early 1945 and the Roer River offensive in February. They reached the Rhine River south of Cologne in March and crossed at Remagen, supporting the reduction of the Ruhr Pocket in April. The unit finally swung eastward to the Elbe River and rolled toward the Baltic coast with the 82d Airborne Division, stopping in Schwerin.

The 644th received credit for the campaigns of Normandy, Northern France, Rhineland, Ardennes-Alsace and Central Europe. John left the service on October 9, 1945, at Fort Dix, NJ, at the rank of Technician 4th Grade.

Jack A. McKeown 2He returned to Pennsylvania and made his home in Collingdale. We don’t know much about his life after the war but we do know that the 1950 census has him living in Camden, NJ, and working as a communications lineman. He and Elinor would have a son, Albert, born in 1951, and sometime after that the family moved to California, making their home in La Habra. It is possible that this move was due to his job. John passed away on August 1, 1982, and was buried in La Habra. 

I want to thank John’s nephew, Bill, for providing the information and photos used in this tribute.