General Keller E. Rockey had a long and distinguished Marine Corps career, the highlight of which was his command of the 5th Marine Division in WWII and the taking of Iwo Jima. For his outstanding leadership, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal (Navy). The citation reads in part:
… in a position of great responsibility as Commanding General of the Fifth Marine Division prior to and during the seizure of enemy-held Iwo Jima from February 19 to March 26, 1945 … Major General Rockey skillfully welded the new and untried Division into a formidable fighting command.
… a bold tactician, he landed his forces at the base of Mount Suribachi. Deploying his units according to plan, he quickly cut the island in two. Directing the assault with superb generalship he moved his forces inexorably forward and captured the mountain. Continuing his attack to the north, he waged furious battle until he had succeeded in annihilating the last pocket of Japanese resistance.
Gen Rockey joined the Marine Corps after graduation from college in May 1915 and following sea service, sailed for France in June 1917. One year later, as a member of the Fifth Marine Regiment, he participated in the Aisne-Marne Defensive (Château-Thierry). He was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions at Château-Thierry where, on July 6, 1918, he performed distinguished service by bringing up supports and placing them in the front lines at great personal exposure, showing exceptional ability and extraordinary heroism.
Shortly after returning to the United States in 1919, Rockey went to foreign shore duty in Haiti as a member of the Haitian Constabulary, where he remained until 1921, then returned to this country to join Marine Barracks, Washington, D.C. Following duty at Headquarters Marine Corps, Washington, D.C., he became a student in the Field Officers’ Course, Marine Corps Schools, Quantico, and at the Command and General Staff School, Fort Leavenworth, Upon graduation in June 1926, he became an instructor in the Department of Tactics, Marine Corps Schools.
From January to November 1928, he was commanding officer, First Battalion, Eleventh Artillery Regiment, Second Marine Brigade, stationed in Nicaragua, where he was awarded a Gold Star in lieu of a second Navy Cross for outstanding services.
Rockey next became Base Intelligence, Operations and Training Officer of the MCB San Diego, California, and later Chief of Staff of the Base. In June 1934, he was assigned to duty as chief of the War Plans Division, Marine Corps Headquarters, following which he became Force Marine Officer, U.S. Battle Force aboard the USS California.
He returned to Washington in July 1939, to assume duties with Operations, Navy Department (War Plans) and in August 1941, became chief of staff of the Second Marine Division the position he was serving in when the United States entered World War II.
Rockey then served as Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps before assuming command of the newly formed 5th Marine Division. The division trained in Camp Pendleton before sailing for Hawaii to complete preparations for the invasion of Iwo Jima. The 5th Division was unique in that it was comprised both of new young recruits and also veteran warriors from the disbanded Marine Paramarines and Raiders and some heroes returning to duty after recuperating from injuries. Notable among its ranks were men who had battled in Guadalcanal, Bougainville, Tarawa, and other Pacific Island amphibious assaults.
After the war ended, Rockey was assigned to the Third Amphibious Corps during the occupation of North China. From there he continued his illustrious career until retirement in 1950. Twenty years later he was interred in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.