Born in 1924 in Fairmont, MN
Currently lives in Fairmont, MN
U.S. Army World War II Veteran
Like many young men of his generation, Fairmont, MN resident Kenneth Thate joined the military to help serve our country and fight the enemy during World War II. Thate joined the local National Guard unit in Fairmont. “The armory was in downtown Fairmont at the time,” Thate recalled. “After two years in the Guard, I enlisted in the Army and was sent to Camp Livingston, Louisiana. We were camped in bivouac and for two full weeks it rained the whole time,” he remembered.
He was 19 years old and said he was making $21 per month in the Army. “I sent $10 of it home,” Thate said. After basic training, he was shipped to the Army’s Camp Adair training facility near Corvallis, Oregon before heading to California for deployment in the South Pacific. “We were headed to the Philippines, but the war ended,” Thate said. “I joined and they were so scared of me they surrendered,” he joked.
His unit, the U.S. Army 64th Division Battery “H” Heavy Artillery, was diverted from their Philippines assignment to occupy Japan following the dropping of the atomic bomb and the Japanese surrender in 1945. “I saw the carnage,” Thate recalled. “You couldn’t believe the destruction. Eight-by-eight steel beams were twisted and looked like pretzels. People wandered around in a daze not even knowing what day it was,” Thate said.
Thate was in Japan for about a year, and lost his hearing shooting the big guns. “I was in charge of a 105mm Howitzer canon,” he said. “We didn’t have ear protection back then. It was loud and I shot that gun okay. When it was fired, the wheels would jump off the ground.”
Thate went over to Japan as a corporal and was up for master sergeant rank and recommended for officer training school, but decided to come back home to Fairmont. Taking a moment to reflect on his time in the Army, Thate looks back with amazement on how quickly time goes by. “That was over 70 years ago,” he added. “It just doesn’t seem like it was that long ago that I got out of the service.”
Story and Image © 2017 Joseph Kreiss Photography