Sixty-five years. That’s the age of retirement, for many or most folks in the U.S., sometimes to a second "Honey-do" career. Three score and five, as Mr. Lincoln might express it.
That’s also how long Kenny Eye, of Larned, waited to get his medals and other decorations due him for his honorable service in World War II. That situation, really no one’s fault, was remedied Wednesday at Glory Be in Larned, with 150 or more relatives and friends on hand.
Congressman Jerry Moran, R-Hays, made a special trip to Larned to present the medals and ribbons to Mr. Eye. He said he was "not here to talk about politics," but to pay tribune to the men and women who served our country — armed forces veterans. When he said he was in Larned particularly to honor one veteran, and that was Kenny Eye, one could tell that the honoree was completely surprised, from the jaw-dropping expression on his face.
He was dumbfounded, and said, accepting the honor and the medals, "I am without words. ... Thank you."
"We’re here to recognize the value of his service to his country," Moran said. He noted that Eye is "not a rock star or a professional athlete. These are entertainers. He is, instead, a hero." There was much and frequent applause during the short program before the packed house.
Afton Linderer, Kenny’s granddaughter, said that about 2 1/2 years ago, she heard a speaker, a man whose father was one of the marines who put up the Stars and Stripes on Iwo Jima at the end of that epic battle against the Japanese. Hearing this made her think of her grandfather, Kenny, and how much she knew, or didn’t know, of his part and his past in World War II. He served honorably. After Pearl Harbor was attacked on Dec. 7, 1941, Kenny and his brother Vincent both enlisted in the Navy. In January 1942 they went to Kansas City, then on to Chicago. For a long time, they were in the same Naval Air Transport Squadron, Linderer said, but were finally separated. Kenny was discharged honorably on Dec. 4, 1945. Vincent was discharged some time before that.
Kenny was in a hurry to get home to western Kansas, so he did not hang around long enough to get his medals. But now, recently, at age 88, he decided he would like to have them. So, son Tracy, granddaughters, Jerry Moran and his staff, etc., were enlisted in the cause.
Kenny was an aviation mechanic F — first class. But he was trained and authorized to fly (pilot) the planes if need arose. He flew large planes in the South Pacific, Linderer said. In fact, on Aug. 25, 1944, exactly 66 years ago Wednesday, his log book showed a record of a safe flight in that area.
Tracy Eye, his son, said he asked his dad about his ribbons, patches, medals. He said he "didn’t stick around for that. He was ready to come home."
His medals received Wednesday included a World War II Victory Medal, one for his participation in the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign, an American Campaign one, and a Good Conduct medal. Some in the crowd kidded Kenny about his receiving the Good Conduct honor.
Kenny’s wife, Wanda, was present, along with his two sisters, Maxine Cramer and Peggy Fegter, and other relatives and friends. Vincent is now deceased.
Moran noted that several American Legion Riders were present, as well as VFW and American Legion members and other veterans. "We should honor them every day of our lives," he said. They are true heroes who are with us every day, he added. "They are moms and dads, brothers and sisters, serving the country, whether drafted or volunteering."
The goal, he said, of the "Greatest Generation," who served in World War Ii, was to make life better for the next generation. In Washington, he said, "long-term" means until the next November election. Not for these folks. For them, it meant the future of their families and of the great experiment called democracy.