ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. --
He served with Darby’s Rangers. He was a part of the 1st Special Service Force, also known as the Black Devils. He fought with the 474th Regimental Combat Team. His name was Kenneth G. Kerridge, and he was my grandfather.
Many men from the “greatest generation” fought in the great wars of the past. My grandfather was no different. At the age of 17, he enlisted in the U.S. Army. He was an immigrant and received naturalization papers for his military service.
Although he was a British citizen coming from Canada, he wanted to do his part and fight the enemies of his new home.
Veterans Day is a day to thank those who have answered the call to serve in the military. This year, I want to thank a man who served this country honorably and inspired me to do the same.
My grandfather had two children: my mother, Linda, and my aunt, Barb. Only through them did I learn about his exploits with the Army. The more I learned about him, the more I became interested. I would pour over books about World War II, interested in the time period during which my grandfather served in a war that covered the globe.
I was born Nov. 12, 1989, at 12:04 a.m., just 4 minutes after Veterans Day had concluded. My grandmother noticed the time and how close I’d come to being born on the holiday. She told me later that she was hoping I’d make my appearance just a few minutes earlier because of what it would have meant to my grandfather.
The holiday took time to resonate with me. It was only after my grandfather passed away that I realized who he was, what he did, and how significant his service was in the largest conflict of all time.
Unfortunately, I was just five years old when he died. His time with me was brief and I was just too young to actually get to know him. I still wish I could’ve had a few years to talk to him about his service in the Army.
I have so many questions that will have to be forever unanswered.
I’ve heard stories about him throughout my life, and my mother and aunt always described him as a kind and loving man. They told me he didn’t talk much about his time in the war, but my mother managed to get a few stories out of him.
She told me his military service took him to North Africa, across the Mediterranean Sea to Sicily, and then mainland Italy. He was caught behind enemy lines outside Naples, Italy. His unit slept in cover during the day and moved at night until they got back to their battalion.
He later received a Purple Heart after he was wounded during Operation Avalanche, when Allied forces fought for control of Salerno, Italy. He spent that day hiding behind trees and rocks as German tanks attacked his position. He escaped later that night and received treatment for his wounds.
In Cisterna my grandfather father was hit in the legs several times with shrapnel and was sent to the hospital ship in the Tyrrhenian Sea off Naples. When the soldiers from his battalion were lining up to ship out to Anzio, my grandfather got dressed, gathered his gear and got into line. The physician who was treating him made him go back to bed since he was not released for duty. This saved his life because almost all of the 3rd Battalion was killed in Anzio.
From Anzio, he went to Rome, Northern Italy, France and Germany. My mother indicated he’d fought in the Battle of the Bulge, but she does not know where. She said he did not speak about that time of the war.
Stories like these intrigued me – they made me recognize how much history there is about him that I don’t know. It makes me want to dig deeper and find out everything I can about my grandfather and his service.
His service in the U.S. military inspired me to become a better person. He fought in a conflict that tore the world into pieces, and he wanted to do his part to put it back together. Even though I never had to fight an enemy as directly as the ones he faced, or triumph over the trials he took part in, I still try to bring that same spirit to my service.
I am the first person in my family to have joined the military since my grandfather’s enlistment almost 70 years ago. Part of the reason I joined was because of his service in the war. Stories about his bravery inspired me to enlist and change my life for the better.
The challenges I will see during my time in the Air Force may not be the same as what he saw, but at least I can follow his example.
I may not follow in his footsteps, but at least I can walk beside them.