Services for Rhul Keller, Jr. of Blytheville, Arkansas are set for 10 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2017, in the Eastman Baptist Church, Eastman Community of Love County, Okla., with Bro. Gerald Keller and Monte Dinwiddie officiating. Interment in the Eastman Cemetery will follow with military honors by a U.S. Army team as well as the Patriot Guard. Arrangements are under the direction of Flanagan-Watts Funeral Home & Cremation Services, Marietta, Okla.
Born June 8, 1947, at Eastman, Rhul was the son of Rhul Wesley and Mable Beatrice Turner Keller. He passed away Oct. 9, 2017, in St. Bernards Medical Center in Jonesboro, Arkansas at the age of 70.
Raised on the family farm in Eastman, he enjoyed farm life. Rhul was baptized, as a young boy, in Marietta’s First Baptist Church, becoming a member of the Eastman Baptist Church. He attended Turner Public School, graduating with the class of 1965. Soon after graduation he joined the U.S. Army and served three tours of duty in Vietnam. He was first assigned to the 25th Infantry Division which headquartered in Cu Chi, which was termed the most bombed, shelled, defoliated area in the history of the Vietnam War. This area was considered the Iron Triangle, a Viet Cong stronghold, 40 square miles of jungle and briars with an intricate underground network of interconnecting tunnels and bunkers extending over 200 km. Once this was discovered by the 25th Infantry, it was apparent that the military had to do something. The Tunnel Rat was the answer. Rhul, still having the determination to win this war as he did when he left Love County, became one of those who volunteered to become a Tunnel Rat or a Tunnel Runner as they were first called by the infantry division. His job was to go into the tunnels with only a Colt 45 and a flashlight while carrying a C-4 explosive pack in his hands. He would be on a search and destroy mission, blow the tunnel up and shoot anyone who might try to get in his way. It was during one of these excursions, in April 1967, it was made known to Keller that a Times Magazine reporter and photographer were standing nearby as he entered the tunnel. A picture was taken just as he was about to go down with his riggin’. Several years ago, Rhul discovered a story about the Tunnel Rats in the August 2012 issue of Vietnam Magazine that had previously been published in Times Magazine’s May 2, 1967, issue. The article included a picture showing him about to disappear into the tunnel with a C-4 pack in his hand.
Rhul received numerous medals for his service including the Bronze Star for his meritorious achievements in ground operations against hostile forces, a Purple Heart for injuries received in the Battle of Loc Ninh on November 3, 1967, the National Defense Service Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal w/1 Silver Service Star, the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal, the Combat Infantryman Badge, the Good Conduct Medal as well as the Sharpshooter (Rifle) medal.
After his military service, Rhul worked in the oil fields for a short time before beginning a career as an over-the-road truck driver.
He was preceded in death by his parents, Rhul and Mable Keller; brother, Richard Wesley (Dick) Keller; sister, Quetha Jo Gonzales; and former wife, Darlene Ulrich.
Survivors include his wife, Geneva of the home in Blytheville, whom he married on Oct. 12, 1991; sister, Betty Rackley and husband Buford of Eastman; brothers, Jimmy Keller and wife Jean of Sacramento, California, and Randall Keller and wife Debra of Rubottom, Okla.; stepsons, Rick Bates and wife Sharon of Madill, Okla., and Gary Bates and wife Jodi of Lone Grove, Okla.; step grandchildren, Bryce Bates, Paul Bates, Jeremy Bates, Brandon Bates and Derek Bates; numerous nieces and nephews; and special friend, Delores Williams.
Serving as casket bearers will be Mark Rackley, Shane Rackley, Kevin Rackley, Kye Henington, Gary Bates, Rick Keller, Ronnie Smith, and Cody Langston. Honorary bearers will be John Nipp, Donnie Heiderich, Johnny Hartman, Dale Vernon, David Vernon, Odis Chitwood, J.P. Hockersmith, Keith Renick, Linda Montgomery Bloomer, Donnie Nipp, Frank Kerley, and the rest of the 1965 Turner graduating class.
Time of visitation for family and friends will be from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday at the funeral home.
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