Kenny Walker

My father was just a kid when he heard the news about uncle Kenny. Terrel Taylor was raking hay on a neighboring farm when his mother, Grace Walker Taylor, drove towards him in the meadow crying, saying that her brother, Kenneth Walker had been shot. Kenny Walker’s U.S. Fourth Infantry Division arrived off the shore of Utah Beach in Normandy not long after the first wave on D-Day and he climbed over the side of the ship to prepare for the worst experience of his life. Bill Walker, Kenny’s son, said he wasn’t sure that his dad knew how to swim, so when the heavy gate on the front of the Higgins fell open, it was a hellish experience. The soldiers jumped into the cold, choppy waters and moved toward the beach. Machine gun fire was hitting all around them. Kenny’s job was to load bodies and wounded soldiers onto Army trucks. When he pointed to a soldier who was not dead, his commanding officer ordered him to throw the soldier on a pile of bodies. “He won’t make it anyway,” the officer shouted. American bodies were starting to float by the Higgins boats, and some wounded soldiers flailed in the water, screaming for help. Higgins pilots were under strict orders to keep the landing boats moving toward the beach and soldiers were ordered to worry only about the landing and taking out the German machine gun nests.

Kenny Walker told the family very little about his war experiences. His outfit “cleaned up” after Gen. Dwight Eisenhower’s troops had moved through the quaint French towns that had been held by the Germans. Many wounded and dead Americans were left behind for Kenny to pick up. Kenny cared for the dead and tended to the wounded. They even made Kenny a field medic, without any training. 

Kenny’s unit had their share of fire fights. But the injury that ended Kenny Walker’s military career came in a French town where everything seemed quiet. The tanks, cannons and trucks had moved to the next town, and Kenny’s outfit was left to do their grim job. He was shot twice by a German sniper— once in the back then in his arm and shoulder. Nobody noticed that he had fallen. His fellow soldiers had others to care for, and he lay for eight hours in the mud and rain before he was found. At one point, he played dead as he waited for help, when German soldiers came through the area, kicking bodies to make sure they were dead. The pain was horrendous, and he passed out. When he rallied around, he remembered that as a medic, he carried syringes of morphine, so he was able to give himself one or two shots. He was later taken back by ship to England for treatment, then sent back to a military hospital in Texas. He was given some training in radio repair, which was supposed to help him make a living after the war. Kenny returned home in late 1945 where he worked in a little radio shop, located in their backyard on the west side of Vinita. The VA also paid for piano lessons, thinking it might be good therapy. His upright piano was in that radio shop. Kenny worked for several years at a filling station in Vinita. He applied for work at the state hospital and the post office, but his arm and shoulder injuries kept him from getting a good job. That’s when his sister, Grace Taylor, stepped in and wrote a pithy letter and hand-carried it to O.B. Campbell, editor of the Vinita Daily Journal, knowing he would relay it to proper authorities. That apparently worked, because Kenny was hired in the mid-1950s to work as a maintenance worker at the Vinita Post Office. So, a full decade passed from the day Kenny Walker took those two German bullets before he was fully employed at a respectable wage.

Kenneth, wife Irmogene, and sons, Bill and Russell, soon moved to a larger two-story home in the south end of Vinita, and life took a good turn for them. The piano was moved to the front hallway and he always enjoyed playing simple tunes for friends and family. A framed photo of Kenneth in his Army uniform hung on Grandma Pearl Walker’s wall. 

He was a hero to our family, who came home “shell shocked. Thunder and lightning drove him to private places where he would pace back and forth and stare into the distance. Today we would call it PTSD. He was never known for being a tough guy, but his experiences with the Normandy invasion etched his memory with nobility and horror that he seldom shared with anyone, especially those in his family. Most of us will never know or understand what servicemen like Kenneth Walker endured on the battlefield. Mr. Walker died at the age of 75 in 1993 after living a quiet life in Vinita. Although those wartime experiences were never silenced inside his mind, he continued to live simply and peacefully, with the grace of one who sees each sunrise and sunset anew, warmed by the presence of family and the gratitude of a nation. 

— Selected excerpts from an article written June 7, 2019, by my Uncle Rudy Taylor, who was the nephew of Kenny and the son of Grace Taylor.

3 comments

  1. Brent, thanks for sharing. My son and I were just talking the other day about how fortunate most of his generation and mine are since we have not had to endure the sacrifices that so many others have made for us. -Tim

  2. Thanks Brent for your great writing about a hero in our family history! I’m thankful for Uncle Kenny’s service and dedication!

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