Howard "Jack" Keil
Howard Jack Keil, who survived being shot down over Austria, imprisonment by Nazis, and a brutal forced march, died May 8 at The Waterford at Levis Commons. He was 98.
Mr. Keil had chronic obstructive heart disease, son Dennis Keil said.
Mr. Keil spent a career as a truck driver for the former Gallant Lumber and Coal Company, a steady union job that paid the bills and garnered longtime relationships, including the Lumbermen’s bowling league. He was a Teamsters steward who took a leadership role because of his seniority on the job.
It belied the chaotic experiences he had in World War II. Mr. Keil was a technical sergeant and top turret gunner on B-24 bombers. A bombing run a few days before in East Europe indicated there was no anti-aircraft guns in the area, but that proved false on July 26, 1944, when a round struck near the co-pilot, Dennis Keil said.
Though the co-pilot was dead, the pilot refused to leave the body, so the rest of the crew jumped over Austria. Friends asked him later in life if he wanted to try to skydive, since he’d already parachuted out of a plane.
“He always joked that he never wanted to jump out of a perfectly good airplane, but he never had a choice,” his son said.
While most of the crew members were captured almost immediately, Mr. Keil and another crewman evaded capture for several days, but were ultimately caught while searching for food.
He was imprisoned at Stalag Luft IV in Poland where he was given little to eat, but avoided excessively harsh treatment. But with the Soviet Army approaching from the east, the Germans forced prisoners of war to march west through blizzard conditions, a brutal act that left thousands dead. He maintained an aversion to crowds for the rest of his life.
“That was the one time he was scared,” Dennis Keil said.
He received an Air Medal with an oak leaf cluster, according to the University of Toledo’s Ward M. Canaday Center, a national partner of the Veterans History Project.
Freed as the war was winding down, he returned home to his wife, June. A daughter, Dana, had been born while he was overseas.
Born Oct. 6, 1919, in Woodville to Harry Keil and Nora Keil, Mr. Keil graduated from Woodville High School. He and June raised their family in Toledo, and then in retirement split their time between Clark Lake in Michigan and Bonita Springs, Fla.
Dennis Keil said his father “lived the good life,” never rich but never afraid of hard work. He and June had four children together, and Mr. Keil loved to drive the boat on the lake while the kids water-skied behind for hours.
June Keil died in 2013, after 72 years of marriage to “Big Papa,” as Mr. Keil was known. He found great joy in having his grandchildren and great-grandchildren nearby. If a car broke down or household item needed to be fixed, Mr. Keil was always just a phone call away.
“Realize when you've made it,” were the words he lived by, his son said.
Mr. Keil is survived by his son, Dennis Keil; daughters, Dana and Candace Keil; two grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by daughter Cheryl Keil.
Visitation will be from 3 to 8 p.m. Tuesday at Reeb Funeral Home, 5712 Main St., Sylvania. Funeral services will be at 11 a.m. Wednesday at Reeb.
The family suggests tributes to national or local POW/MIA organizations, or to organizations that help veterans.
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