Kearns Veteran Finally Receives

World War II Medals

at Camp Williams Ceremony

 

By Maj. Hank McIntire

 

Published May 5, 2008

 

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Chief Warrant Officer Jeff Hanson, left, reads the World War II award citations for Kenneth Berry, center, as his son Rick Berry listens.

Photo by Maj. Hank McIntire

Chief Warrant Officer Jeff Hanson, left, reads the World War II award

citations for Kenneth Berry, center, as his son Rick Berry listens.

CAMP WILLIAMS, Utah — Sixty-three years after his brief military career, retired Army Sergeant Kenneth Berry, 83, of Kearns, received the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, and other medals and awards for his World War II service at a May 3 ceremony at Camp Williams.

More than 150 family, friends, members of the Utah National Guard, and local media crammed into the Camp Williams headquarters building conference room for the emotional event as three of Berry’s sons in their military uniforms stood with him as Chief Warrant Officer Jeff Hanson read each of the award citations and Col. Robert Dunton, commander of Army Garrison Camp Williams, pinned them on Berry’s chest.

Berry was drafted into the Army in 1943 at the age of 18 with the job of hauling gasoline and ammunition. He landed on the beaches of Normandy the day after D-Day as part of the assault of the 41st Armored Infantry Regiment, 2nd Armored Division.

His unit moved through France, Belgium and into Germany, where he fought in the Battle of the Bulge. Later, as his unit neared Berlin he was wounded when German artillery shelled the house where he and his unit were sheltered for the night. He was evacuated to a military hospital in Paris and remained there until after Germany surrendered.

Col. Robert Dunton,Utah National Guard, right, presents Kenneth Berry with his Honorable Service lapel button for his service during World War II.

Photo by Maj. Hank McIntire

Col. Robert Dunton, Utah National Guard, right, presents Kenneth Berry

with his Honorable Service lapel button for his service during World War II.

Berry returned home from the war, married, and with his wife Fanny had 15 children, speaking little of the action he saw in Europe, and thinking even less of any medals he might have earned during his time in uniform.

“He hasn’t talked much about his service,” said the oldest of Berry's 12 living children, Carla Walker, of Springville. “He has opened up in the last couple of years and that has been very precious. We have no clue what he has actually been through.”

Working various jobs—some of them simultaneously—to include cement finisher, meat packer, and baker, he supported his large family, sending several of his sons and daughters on LDS missions.

“He’s always been a hard worker, but that was really ingrained when he went into the Service,” added Walker. “And he has served us as a family—constantly. From day one I have never doubted that my dad loved me, cared about me, or would work as hard as he needed to in order to serve me.”

Sporting his new Army Good Conduct Medal, Kenneth Berry, left, listens with his sons as the next award is announced.

Photo by Maj. Hank McIntire

Sporting his new Army Good Conduct Medal, Kenneth Berry,

left, listens with his sons as the next award is announced.

Building on a legacy of patriotism and service, four of the Berry boys—Rick, Mike, Steve, and Tom—followed their dad into the military.

Rick served eight years as a member of the 19th Special Forces Group (Airborne) of the Utah National Guard and on active duty; Mike spent eight 8 years in the Marine Corps and later joined the Utah Air National Guard, retiring three years ago; Steve was in the Army for three years; and Tom has logged six years in the Utah National Guard, currently serving with Second Battalion, 211th Aviation.

Berry also has a granddaughter and two grandsons in uniform, one of whom serves in the Marines at the U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia.

“Certainly, my dad’s service factored into my decision to join the military,” said Tom, a Kearns resident who works for the Postal Service and is home on leave from Fort Sill, Okla., where his 150-Soldier unit is making final preparations to ship out to Kuwait and Iraq. “He is such a humble man; he has always put his children first. It’s nice for him to have his day after all these years.”

Kenneth Berry displays the nine medals, awards and pins he received May 3 at the Utah National Guard's Camp Williams.

Photo by Maj. Hank McIntire

Kenneth Berry displays the nine medals, awards and pins he

received May 3 at the Utah National Guard's Camp Williams.

The trigger for the events of this day was Berry’s recent need for VA medical care, so son Rick, also of Kearns, became the catalyst for trying to document his dad’s service, as well as the medals and awards he had earned.

Knowing that his dad had been wounded and was at the very least entitled to the Purple Heart, Rick started writing letters and searched on the Internet to find out what he could about the senior Berry’s military records. He learned that the archives of many World War II veterans’ service were lost or destroyed in a 1973 fire at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis.

After the fire, workers microfilmed every document that was in any way legible. However, because the microfilms had to searched manually, St. Louis officials gave Rick little hope that any records could be found, and “it took Congressional and Pentagon intervention to deal with it,” he said.

Finally in March of this year the family received word that the Center had located a badly singed document from 1948 on microfilm indicating that Berry was not only eligible for the Bronze Star and Purple Heart, but he was also due the Army Good Conduct Medal, Combat Infantry Badge, Meritorious Unit Commendation award, European-African Middle-Eastern Campaign Medal with Silver Service Star, the World War II Victory Medal, an Honorable Service lapel button, and the Belgian Fourragere, a braided red cord worn on the left shoulder of the Army ‘Class A’ uniform.

The family decided to plan an event to honor their dad and came to the Utah National Guard for help. Berry's children kept the ceremony a secret, telling him that everyone was gathering for a military award that Tom was to receive. Even the local media were in on the ruse, agreeing not to report the story until after the ceremony.

Kenneth Berry, second from left, expresses thanks to  his family and friends for "the best day of my life."

Photo by Maj. Hank McIntire

Kenneth Berry, second from left, expresses thanks to

 his family and friends for "the best day of my life."

Moments before Col. Dunton stood to welcome the assembled group, Tom whispered to his dad why they were really there. It was the shock of Berry’s life.

“What a surprise!” said Berry, looking over his vast posterity after receiving his well-deserved medals. “This means so much to me. Boy, my family is sure big now! You are my whole life.”

“I appreciate it so much,” added Berry, “especially after the records were burned up. I found out that they would have to reconstruct my service record. All these Soldiers still living, that’s what they are having to do, reconstruct their service records.”

Dunton, who was also deeply touched by the significance of the event, told Berry at the close of the ceremony, “Thank you for letting us have this honor to honor you.”

Marsha Burnside, one of Kenneth Berry's daughters,gives him a standing ovation at the conclusion of the awards ceremony at Camp Williams May 3.

Photo by Maj. Hank McIntire

Marsha Burnside, one of Kenneth Berry's daughters, gives him a standing ovation at the conclusion of the awards ceremony at Camp Williams May 3.

“There are so many World War II veterans who came home and didn’t think about the awards and their service,” continued Dunton. “That was just commonplace. But as you see here, it is not commonplace. The Greatest Generation who saved the world from tyranny and repression is truly great. What an incredible honor for the National Guard to be part of it.”

After a flurry of interviews from the five television stations who came to cover the event, Rick reflected on what this day meant to him and his family.

“We’ve always known that he was a hero,” he said. “He has quietly mentored us, sacrificed, and did without for others.”

"To see him recognized for the hero he is, was very special for all of us,” Rick continued. “I’m very pleased that the Guard would step in and help with this. It made it a very, very memorable event.”

And it was something that Berry himself will never forget, telling his family when they returned home that evening, "This is the best day of my life."