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Russell Countian, Kenneth Bernard, at Battle of Breakneck Ridge

The World War II Battle of Breakneck Ridge was fought on Leyte, one of the Philippine Islands, 70 years ago this month--November, 1944. The men involved in that bloody, ferocious, sometimes hand-to-hand fighting included a quiet Russell Countian who would become one of its best known citizens.

Author, who sent this to us, wishes to remain anonymous

A Quiet Man Goes to War

Everyone in Russell County either knew Mr. Kenneth Bernard or at least knows he founded a funeral home in Russell Springs and successfully ran it for over fifty years. Few, however, remember his gallant military service during World War Two.


Kenneth entered the Army in early September, 1941, embarked for overseas duty in early 1942, and didn't set foot in the United States again until the spring of 1945, thirty-nine long months and several battles after his last furlough home. He was a member of the 34th Infantry Regiment, which in turn had been assigned to the 24th Infantry Division in June, 1943. Wikipedia notes the 24th Infantry Division "was among the first US Army divisions to see combat in World War II and among the last to stop fighting...[T]he division saw action throughout the Pacific theater, first fighting in New Guinea before landing on the Philippine islands of Leyte and Luzon, driving Japanese forces from them."

An excerpt from a military public relations release appeared in the April 26, 1945 "Hi-Lights of R.S.H.S." (Russell Springs High School) feature in the Russell County News. Almost certainly, it referred to the capture of Breakneck Ridge on Leyte in the fall of 1944.

By the time the press release appeared in the newspaper, Pfc Bernard's grade had been changed to Corporal. The news release read, in part:

"Private First Class Kenneth A. Bernard of Russell Springs, Ky., and his buddies in the First Battalion of this Victory Division's crack 34th Infantry Regiment helped write another stirring page in American military history in one of the most bitter offensive actions in this campaign to free the Philippines.

"With their battalion far below strength after 21 days of hard fighting, they drove deep behind enemy lines, over back breaking, muddy mountain trails to seize and hold a ridge to deny the Japanese commanding positions facing our main forces in a crucial valley...

"Artillery and mortar shells, hand grenades, rifle and machine gun fire kept them low, day and night, in a soupy mud of rain drenched foxholes. Hot, spent shell fragments, showered down upon them. At times they met the attacks head-on in furious hand-to-hand combat to save dwindling ammunition supplies,

"Acts of individual heroism became commonplace. When a relief unit was sent to the ridge, they closed their part of the mission by leading an attack to drive the Japs from strong positions near the perimeter."
Somewhere along the way, Kenneth earned a Bronze Star Medal, an award based on individual merit for "any person who, while serving in any capacity in or with the military of the United States after 6 December 1941, distinguished himself or herself by heroic or meritorious achievement or service."

(This first appeared on Facebook and is used here with permission of the author.)


This story was posted on 2014-11-15 08:26:13
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