'An exemplary soldier,'
ROCKFORD - Gold Star parents Angie and Jim White lost their oldest son, Ken, on May 1, 1969.
Kenneth L. White died in Vietnam, 1969
Twenty-one year old Sgt. Kenneth Leroy White was at the time with Company A, 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry, 25th Infantry Division serving in Vietnam.
Ken was born in April 1948, and was a graduate of Rockford West High School, class of 1967.
The White's other four children were also graduates of West High: Lori, Bob, Jim, and Jay.
In speaking of Ken, Angie White says, "After graduation he worked for Rockford Newspapers for a time. He was working at Berg and Sunberg Printers when he received his draft notice. Ken enlisted in the Army on Valentines Day, 1968, and was sent to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, and then to Fort Polk, Louisiana for basic training before starting his tour of duty in Vietnam on July 20, 1968."*
According to Angie and Jim White, Ken was just "your average kid" growing up on Rockford's northwest side in the 1950s/'60s. At the time, the family lived on Overdene Ave.
*(Note: In a 2010 interview, local Vietnam veteran Dan Jensen recalled what he experienced upon first joining: "When we had to report (for basic), I remember we had to meet early at the Redwood Restaurant on South Main Street," he said, "before catching a 5 a.m. train into Chicago to the induction building in the Loop. From there we flew to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri for basic training, and after that I was sent to Fort Polk, Louisiana. Processing took all day." Ken White most likely went through the same type of procedure.)
Jim recalled recently how his son enjoyed "playing with toy soldiers and forts. He was a good kid and had lots of friends."
Angie White noted that Ken "always took good care of his personal belongings and liked to play with his friends outside. Our children always knew it was time to come home when the porch light went on. We never had a problem. Also, as a family we liked to play board games or cards so they really didn't watch a lot of television." Monopoly was a big favorite.
Angie did remember, however, that Ken really liked watching Gunsmoke on TV. The program ran for 20 seasons on television from 1955 to 1975 starring James Arness as Marshall Matt Dillon.
The family was also involved with their church and it was through young people's activities at Beth Eden United Methodist Church that Ken met his one and only girlfriend - and future wife, Pam Kaley.
Ken married Pam when he came home after finishing basic training, a two-week break before reporting for duty. During his tour he had some R&R in Hawaii but he never returned home alive after that.
As a child, Ken attended Conklin and Westview Elementary Schools, and then went through junior high at Roosevelt before attending Rockford West. While in high school he was a good enough student, Angie recalls, and was involved in football ("always on the defense") and wrestling. "The boys had to maintain a C or better grade average to play," Angie remembers. West had some great teams in the 1960s and coach Alex Saudargus is well remembered by everyone who went to West.
One of Ken's classmates was James Cartwright, who is today Vice-Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon and a Four-Star General. Cartwright also graduated in 1967.
Angie and Jim said Ken had some close friends growing up and one of them went on to become a minister after high school. Because of his career choice and continuing on with his education the friend was not drafted.
Angie recalled, "Ken's friend visited here last year. He mentioned one of the letters he wrote to Ken where he told him that he felt guilty because he was in school and Ken was off serving in Vietnam. Ken responded that he needn't feel guilty as his friend was doing what he was supposed to do and he, Ken, was doing what he felt he needed to do. There was never any choice for Ken, he accepted the situation at the time and had no intention of not serving when his draft notice arrived. He was a serious-minded boy and felt he needed to do what was necessary."
After reaching Vietnam, Ken was promoted to sergeant in October 1968 and took command of his squad. Shortly after that he was wounded and awarded a Purple Heart, then returned to action where he received two Bronze Stars for heroism in action.
Ken served a total of 14 months before being killed in action at Hau Nghia Province, Vietnam.
Quoting from a couple of letters Ken wrote home, in his own words are some of his thoughts on what was happening at the time:
"I don't like this war, or what I am doing, but I do believe in what I am fighting for and I'll continue to fight as long as I have to. I have seen men die for their country because they wanted to keep America free for themselves and for their families.
"What a price to pay - but it has been paid many times over here in Vietnam . . . I'll fight the best I can and so much as I can to help . . . and I know as I lead other men I'll be leading them for something great and precious to us all."
In late May 1969, the Whites received the following report on Ken's death.
"On May 1, 1969, while enroute to a friendly ambush site, a hostile force was encountered. At 8:09 p.m. heavy enemy small arms and automatic weapons fire caused him to sustain a penetrating missile wound to his head. He died instantly. Ken was an exemplary soldier whose leadership ability, integrity and devotion to duty earned him the respect of all with whom he came in contact. His loss is keenly felt by the members of this unit.
Chas. S. Boyd |
Copyright © Rock Valley Publishing 2011.
Used with permission.