World War II veteran and founder of VFW2995 Troop Support Volunteer Program John Kenny will serve as the grand marshal of Kirkland’s annual Fourth of July parade.
Kenny, age 92, has managed over 20,000 care packages that have been sent to troops.
He recalls being called to active in the United States Army two weeks after his 18th birthday. Following basic training, he was assigned to the 32nd Infantry Division in New Guinea.
“At the time they were defending the west side of the Drinumor River,” Kenny recalled in his biography. “Our defense line was very sparsely defended as it was not expected the Japanese could muster enough men to break through our lines. This was a major mistake.”
His group walked into an ambush, and two of his friends he met at basic training were killed.
“Our company was completely surrounded for several days with our backs to the sea,” he continued. “We were extremely low on ammunition and probably one more attack would have been the end.”
The Japanese eventually retreated as their losses were devastating, he recalled.
“After a few days, the records showed that 9,300 Japanese were killed. Our division lost 420 killed,” Kenny said. “The scene was unbelievable. The bodies of Japanese soldiers were floating down the Drinumor river like logs floating out to sea. The Navy reported seeing bodies 10 miles out in the sea.”
While in New Guinea most of the soldiers including Kenny had malaria, dengue fever, jungle rot and dysentery.
Kenny went on to serve the next two campaigns in Leyte and Luzon, where he experienced more tough combat. During the battle for Luzon, Kenny’s company was assigned to take the mountaintop.
“We succeeded in doing this but we only had 30 men left to hold that mountaintop,” he continued. “A few hours later I made the mistake of standing up to get a good line of fire for our machine-gun and as a result I was shot in the right arm and my assistant gunner was shot in the leg. That left only 28 men to secure that area. Lucky for us the Japanese were in even worse shape so there was no counter attack. Also reinforcements arrived the next day. They were lucky they didn’t have to fight their way up that mountain.”
The final count on this particular campaign was the Japanese had 8,900 killed and 50 POWs, according to Kenny. The U.S. had 891 killed in action, including Kenny’s best friend Donald Thomas.
After Luzon, Kenny finished his military career and faced difficulties adjusting to civilian life. He had a severe problem with reoccurring malaria attacks.
“Another recently discharged infantry veteran and I decided to visit our old buddies around the country,” Kenny continued. “I wanted to see Donald Thomas’ widow in Waterloo Iowa and my old assistant gunner in California. We were gone for almost a year with a 1933 Dodge for our transportation. We did odd jobs in various cities to finance the trip.”
In 1948 he took a civil service test and was hired by the immigration service on Ellis Island New York. He was there six years until the island was closed in 1954. He transferred to the Federal Bureau of Prisons as a correctional officer. When he graduated college he became a parole officer and he retired in 1977.
He served as the legislative chairman for the VFW Department of Washington for eight years. Prior to his wife’s death, they ran a feed the homeless veterans program for five years.
This August marks 14 years of their Troop Support Program shipping care packages to troops on the front lines, in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Kenny was elected as Veteran Volunteer of the Year by the state Veterans Affairs Committee in 2000, and two years ago he was awarded the state Lifetime Achievement Award at the VFW state convention.
“I receive all of these awards on behalf of our great volunteers who make the troop support program work,” Kenny said. “Without them we would have nothing.”
For information about how you can support or volunteer with the VFW Post 2995 Troop Support Program, please call the Post at 425-883-2995.
The Kirkland Fourth of July parade starts at noon at Market and Central Way. For more information, visit celebratekirkland.org.