William Robert Keyser

Age 83 Railroad worker served as a medic during the battle of Iwo Jima.

August 11, 2008|By John Fritze | John Fritze,Sun reporter

William Robert Keyser, a retired railroad worker who served as a medic during the battle of Iwo Jima, died of sepsis Aug. 4 at Bonnie Blink, the Maryland Masonic Home in Hunt Valley. The longtime Perry Hall resident was 83.

Known to his friends and family as Bob, Mr. Keyser was born in Baltimore and graduated from City College in 1942. After graduating, he went to work for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad in the auditor's office, overseeing freight accounts.

A year later he joined the Navy and spent several months stationed in the United States before leaving for the Pacific with the 4th Marine Division. He served as a medic in the 1944 landings on Saipan and Tinian. In 1945, he landed on Iwo Jima.

Family members said he recalled having a radio shot out of his hands during the assault and later found several bullet holes in his clothing, though he was not wounded. Mr. Keyser was one of 19 members of his infantry company to walk off the island in March 1945.

"It wasn't something that he bragged about or he talked about a lot. He was very humble about the situation," said E. Ray Lichty, a retired CSX executive. "I think when you're survivor like that, it leaves you in a position of wondering why you survived and so many others did not."

Last spring, the Armed Services YMCA recognized corpsmen and medics at an event in Washington. Mr. Keyser was selected by the surgeon general of the Marine Corps to receive the award for that military branch, friends said.

In the fall of 1945, Mr. Keyser returned to the United States on board the USS Baltimore. He was honorably discharged in April 1946. He then studied law at the University of Baltimore and returned to the B&O.

In 1947, he married Betty Obinger, whom he had met at their church years earlier. Mrs. Keyser died in 1997.

In 1948, he was appointed to the position of traveling auditor in the general accounting department of the B&O. He was transferred to Pittsburgh, Wheeling, W.Va., and Cincinnati before returning to Baltimore in 1963. In 1971, he went to work for the general accounting office as an accountant and retired from that position in 1985.

In 1987, Mr. Keyser served as a committee chairman of RABO, a retired B&O employees association. He was elected president of the organization in 1990 and was an active member for years.

"All around, he was a great guy, and he was really active," said Jack Griffin, a former B&O employee who noted that as a Navy medic serving in the Marines, Mr. Keyser could wear either uniform.

"I kiddingly asked him, 'Do you ever wear your Navy uniform?' and he responded, 'Around all those Marines?' "

Mr. Keyser was also an active Mason and Shriner.

Services were held Thursday in Perry Hall.

He is survived by two nieces, Linda Hoppe of Jarrettsville and Judith Haas of Okatie, S.C.

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