By Everett Brazil, III
The Newkirk Herald Journal
NEWKIRK — Kenneth and Ralph Vickery have seen a lot of history in the community. Born and raised in Newkirk, they continue to make Newkirk their home to this day. That history dates back to the 1920s, nearly 100 years ago, along with service during WWII. To this day, they look back on their service years, and remain proud to have served the community when it was most needed.
Kenneth and Ralph were the youngest of three brothers who served during the conflict, along with older brother Marvin, who fought prior to them graduating high school. Marvin and Kenneth served in the U.S. Army, while Ralph set sail with the U.S. Navy on the opposite side of the world.
Kenneth and Ralph came of age during those years in the early 1940s, which meant they would not be eligible for service until the end of the conflict, but they did see some service at the tail end of the war. For Kenneth, it was a tour in Germany following the Battle of the Bulge, a last effort of the German forces to reclaim territory at the end of the war, from December 1944 to January 1945. The European conflict would end in the spring of 1945, only a few months later. Kenneth graduated high school in 1944, and soon entered basic training.
“We completed 17 weeks of training, and off to Germany we went,” he said.
Kenneth served in the 345thInfantry Regiment, 87thInfantry Division, under the famed Gen. George Patton, although he never actually met Patton personally.
Moving overseas, they landed in Glasgow, Scotland, United Kingdom, then France, where they prepared to move east to Germany, but he never saw any fighting during the battle.
“The Battle of the Bulge was just over one day or two before we got there,” Kenneth said.
That doesn’t mean that Kenneth didn’t see a hard time, as there were times his unit came under fire.
“After we crossed the Rhine River, we came under fire from a hill. We opened up with our artillery, and just opened up on that hill,” he said. “The next morning, they had built a pontoon bridge. The tanks looked like they were going to sink it.”
Kenneth also recounted about a sniper threatening their unit, when German soldiers were trailing them from behind, especially suicide-type attacks.
“A shot rang out. We hit the ground as fast as we could,” he said. “By that time, they opened the tank on the shooter’s position, and finished him off.”
While Kenneth may not have seen a lot of real combat, there were there things that made him sick, especially the liberation of Buchenwald concentration camp.
“We visited Buchenwald, and it was terrible. It’s hard to believe what they did to those people,” he said. “They worked them to death, starved them to death.”
They intended to make it to Berlin, the capitol of Germany, but the European Front ended before that happened, and they soon found themselves preparing to go to Japan for an invasion. The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, however, forced the Japanese government to surrender to allied forces, ending the war.
“We were waiting to be sent to Japan, but while we were waiting, Japan gave up, and we didn’t have to go,” he said.
Kenneth was later transferred to Indiana, where he would serve as an Army cook before being discharged.
Ralph Vickery did have to go to Japan, however, as he served in the U.S. Navy in the Pacific Front. While his brothers chose the Army, he chose the Navy, maybe for practical reasons.
“They told me about sleeping in a pup tent, and I wanted a bed, so I joined the Navy,” Ralph said.
Like Kenneth, Ralph attended boot camp straight out of high school and began studying diesel mechanics, but he soon found himself thrusted into the war almost immediately.
“One night, they came in the barracks, hitting he beds with their clubs saying, ‘Be ready to move in an hour,’” Ralph said.
He ended up in San Francisco and boarded a transport ship headed west across the Pacific Ocean. They were headed to Japan and were part of a larger fleet that included about 300 ships bound for northern Japan. The ships arrived with heavy cargo, including Jeeps, trucks and tanks, for a perceived invasion of the country.
Landing in Youkuska, they were expecting fire but all was peaceful, as they arrived after the war had ended.
“We were prepared to fight, but the war was over,” he said.
He served another nine months in an occupation role following the war.
Even during the conflict, there were special moments, as Kenneth was reunited with his brother, Marvin, who had already been in Germany for several years.
Ralph was able to view the devastation of the atomic bombs during his occupation role.
“In Japan, it was terribly poor. I went to both of the places where the atomic bombs were dropped,” he said. “I had a rock that I snuck home that the atomic bomb made a picture of a tree on it.
Kenneth also saw mass devastation from the war.
“It was pretty wild tour when I was there,” he said. “Where the Battle of the Bulge happened, there was not a tree, not a house, not anything standing. It was all bare.”
The brothers did keep in contact with fellow service members follow discharge, but they lost contact with them over the years and decades, and believe they there is only a small handful that may still bee around.
“I think they’re all gone. I kept with a guy from Rapid City, S.D., but he’s dead,” Ralph said.
The brothers still look fondly on their serve today, and are proud to have had the ability to serve, as it was for a tremendous cause.
“We were just doing what we were supposed to do,” Ralph said.