(Photo by Alex Szwarc) World War II veteran John Kenny, of Millington, was hit by a Japanese grenade in 1945 during the Battle of Luzon in the Philippines. He spent over a year in the hospital recovering from his injuries.

Millington World War II veteran remembers Battle of Luzon

The battles of Okinawa, Iwo Jima and Midway fought during World War II might be more well known among Americans than the Battle of Luzon.

But 93-year-old John Kenny of Millington knows that last battle all too well. Scars still can be seen on his arms from injuries he sustained during the battle, which began almost exactly 74 years ago.

The battle and injury

The Battle of Luzon was fought from Jan. 9 to Aug.15, 1945. It was a land battle of the Pacific Theater pitting military from the U.S., the Philippines and allies against the forces of the Empire of Japan.

Kenny was on the frontlines carrying a Browning automatic rifle, sometimes as close as a dozen feet away from the enemy.

He was drafted into the Army in March 1943 at the age of 17.

On the journey across the Pacific Ocean, the ship Kenny was aboard briefly made a stop in Australia before he joined his outfit – the 35th Infantry of the 25th Division in Auckland, New Zealand – in the fall of 1943.

In February 1944, the 25th Division moved to New Caledonia for extended training. The training lasted throughout the summer and into late fall in preparation for the invasion of the island of Luzon in the Philippines.

“We had a seven-day hike through the jungle, practicing taking villages. After that, we boarded a ship,” Kenny said.

For the liberation of the island of Luzon, the decision was made to first strike at Lingayen Gulf on the island’s northwest coast where sheltered beaches would facilitate a large amphibious assault and place U.S. forces on the best roads leading to the Philippines capital city of Manila.

The 35th Infantry went into action on Jan. 11, 1945. Kenny said his division spent 165 days in combat without relief. He lasted 135 days and later spent a year in the hospital.

On his 135th day – May 2, 1945 – Kenny was struck by a Japanese “knee mortar” from a grenade discharger.

“When I got hit, I had a replacement and he didn’t know what to do. I had to cut my pant leg and put a tourniquet on myself,” Kenny said. “I got hit in several places, the worst being my arm and leg.”

Kenny later learned that in local newspapers in America, he was listed as killed in action.

“At 19 years old, I was thinking only about the moment, not necessarily how fortunate I was to survive,” he said. “Now, that’s all I can think of.”

After he was wounded, Kenny recalls it taking about four hours to get out of the jungle, traveling in a Jeep through the rain back to headquarters.

“They had about 100 guys all laid out in a field with a doctor going around,” he said. “The medic put a brace on my leg and was tightening it.”

Kenny was shipped to Manila, then to Leyte, in the Philippines, where there was a large general hospital. He stayed there for three months. He was in a body cast for most of his hospitalization.

He ended up stateside at Hammond General Hospital in Modesto, Calif.

“They had covered up the wound and were giving me penicillin shots every three hours,” Kenny said. “It was draining and all of a sudden I look at my leg and there were a bunch of maggots. I called the nurse and she said they were placed there because they eat the dead skin.”

At the end of the eight-month battle, out of 36 soldiers in his squadron, Kenny was one of two who survived. Today, he believes he is the only squadron member alive.

“When I tried to get in contact right after I got out, I found out most of them hadn’t survived,” Kenny said.

The Battle of Luzon resulted in a U.S. and Filipino victory with the Allies taking control of all strategically and economically important locations of Luzon by March 1945. The official ending of the battle coincided when the Japanese surrender was announced in August 1945.

Post-war life  

Kenny was discharged in the summer of 1945.

“When I heard the war was over, I came out of an eight-hour operation and they were wheeling me back to the ward,” Kenny said. “I was all doped up and said hooray.”

To this day, Kenny can’t squat down or bend his leg due to the injuries he sustained in battle.

Kenny is the recipient of more than a dozen awards and medals including the Purple Heart, Bronze Star, Asiatic Pacific Ribbon, Philippine Liberation Medal, to name a few.

He is most proud of the Combat Infantry Badge, awarded to infantrymen and special forces soldiers in the rank of colonel and below, who fought in active ground combat.

His son, the late Lawrence Kenny, was a Vietnam War veteran and died from side effects related to Agent Orange, a herbicide widely known for its use by the U.S. military during the War.

John Kenny worked as a cabinet maker for over 30 years, retiring in 1991. He married Henrietta in 1946.

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