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home : columnists : columnists November 18, 2017

11/10/2017 4:00:00 AM
Howard Kenley shares stories of wartime
The Times photo by Betsy ReasonWorld War II veteran Howard Kenley (right) shares stories with his sons, Luke Kenley (left) and Tom Kenley, all of Noblesville.
The Times photo by Betsy Reason

World War II veteran Howard Kenley (right) shares stories with his sons, Luke Kenley (left) and Tom Kenley, all of Noblesville.

By Betsy Reason

Howard Kenley Jr. was a navigator on a Boeing B-17 aircraft bomber in the U.S. Air Force during World War II.

He was drafted in October 1941 and flew 35 missions, his last mission on April 18, 1945, just 20 days before V-Day, the end of WWII in Europe.

The 25-year-old looked forward to being discharged so he could go home, back to his new wife of two years. But rather, he would get another assignment, to be sent to Japan because, "We were short navigators," said the military veteran who reached the rank of captain during his four years of service.

"I blew my top when they told me I was going to Japan. When I finally calmed down, I took the train to Pecos, Texas, and saw Luke's mother and saw Luke for the first time," said Howard Kenley Jr., 98, Noblesville, who invited me into his Noblesville home to share stories of his life. Saturday is Veterans Day, when Howard Kenley Jr. will be honored for his distinguished service during a Veterans Day ceremony at the Hamilton County War Memorial on the Courthouse Square.

Two of his sons, Luke Kenley and Tom Kenley, sat and listened to their father as he traveled down memory lane through the pages of his scrapbook, recalling memories and telling stories about his medals that are framed and displayed on his home office wall.

Young baby Howard "Luke" Kenley III, who recently retired as Indiana Senator, and the oldest of eight siblings, "was worth five points" of his military father's promotion points. "I had 143 points, and I couldn't believe they were letting out people with 60 and 80 points and keeping me in," Howard Kenley remembered.

"I was afraid to go to Japan, having flown 35 missions in Europe. I didn't think there was a chance that I could get through that again," he said.

Howard Kenley Jr., when he was drafted in 1941, reported to Fort Benjamin Harrison U.S. Army Post in Indianapolis. From there, he went to Fort Eustis, Virginia, for basic training.

"We were a coast artillery unit. We had 20-inch rifles, and our targets were going to be landing ships from the sea," he said. "Of course, everything changed in the Air Force, so they made us anti-aircraft artillery."

He was in anti-aircraft for about a year until he decided he wanted to go to Officer Candidate School, for which he was tested and accepted, starting in OCS in the fall of 1941. When he

graduated, he went to Fort Bliss Army Post in El Paso, Texas, where he met Elvera, "Vie," his future wife and mother of Tom and Luke. He served there a couple of years before he decided to transfer to the U.S. Air Force, at San Antonio, Texas, in 1943.

"I took three sets of tests for navigator, bombardier and pilot. And I wanted to be a pilot. The highest score you could get was a 9, and I got a 9 for navigation, 9 for bombardier, and only 5 for pilot. That bothered me. They would have put me in training, but I didn't want to wash out. So I went to navigation school in Ellington Field in Houston."

He married in May 1943 after his bride graduated from college in El Paso. After navigation school training, he spent three months in Mississippi.

He was on the No. 1 crew in his group, "so they sent five of us to Havana, Cuba, where we were guest of a Rotary Club." Upon their return, they boarded a train to Savannah, Ga., "where we went to an aircraft factory there and picked up a B-17," he said.

"We flew it for two days, calibrating the instrument. Then, we headed to Newfoundland to an air base up there....We didn't know where we'd be assigned, if we'd go to Africa or Italy or Norway. We were there in Newfoundland about a week because of bad weather, and we took off one night about midnight. We'd been out, roughly four hours; the operator received a message that we were supposed to go back to the base." However, Howard Kenley Jr., in his training, had learned how to calculate fuel usage, and instructed his crew otherwise. "I figured out we didn't have enough gas, so we kept going."

The average length of a mission was about eight hours. "They'd wake us up (at) about 2 (o'clock) in the morning, and we'd get up, get dressed and have breakfast. And we'd go to headquarters and have a briefing and designate the target..... Then we'd go to the air base....We'd take off between 6 or 8 (o'clock) in the morning, just as soon as we'd get a little daylight."

One time, his plane was hit on a bomb run and the plane fell out of formation. He said, "I was scared a lot, but I never had any blood."

He said when he first entered the military, it was "common knowledge that you made $30 a month. And they paid you in cash."

His first payroll was $9. When he was promoted to corporal, he earned $66 a month. Then, when he graduated from OSC as a second lieutenant, he earned $100 per month. He was promoted to first lieutenant, for $125 a month, and finally to captain, for $200 per month, plus flight time and dependant allowance, ending up to be $350 a month.

He said, "I had money running out my ears."

After he was assigned to go to Japan, he didn't have long to serve. Once he got to California and was joining the pilot training, "our friend (President) Harry Truman dropped the bomb on Hiroshima (Japan)." Howard Kenley Jr. was released from the military service in November 1945.

"I went by the (Texas) ranch and picked up Luke and his mother, and we came to Noblesville and got to work in the grocery store."

But that part of the story started a quarter of a century earlier.

Howard Kenley Jr. was born Sept. 29, 1919, in Terre Haute, the middle son of three brothers. His dad operated a meat market that was very successful, and he wanted to open another store. A produce market opened, but it failed. In the meantime, Howard Jr. attended three years of school in Terre Haute. His dad and mom, Howard Sr. and, Alethea Kenley, bought some property just east of Knightstown, where they camped out a couple of summers and built a cottage there.

"After Dad's business failed, we moved over there, and Dad worked wherever he could find a job," said Howard Kenley Jr.

With the move to the Knightstown area, Howard attended grade school, beginning in fourth grade, in nearby Raysville, Ind. "It was a good school. They had two rooms, and four rows of seats in each room, and each row was a grade," he said. "We had 15 minutes of recitation and 45 minutes of study, and the teacher would go from row to row and teach the kids." He was there through sixth grade.

The following year, his parents paid tuition for him to attend Knightstown schools. "After you do your lessons, you listen to what's going on in the sixth, seventh and eighth grade, and you knew everything before you go there," Howard Kenley Jr. said.

He lived with this grandpa, still in the cottage, as his mom and dad moved around to find work. He then attended Connersville and Richmond schools. When his dad found a job in Alexandria, Howard Jr. attended his senior year at Alexandria High School, from where he graduated in 1937.

"Then I wanted to go to college, but I couldn't afford anything. At that time, Indiana University awarded two scholarships for each county, and I took the test and got a scholarship for Madison County." He went to IU for one year, but his scholarship wasn't renewed because he missed four classes, two for good reason, but one because he was depending on an undependable ride.

Dad's job turned out pretty good in Alexandria. Dave Cox, store owner, opened up a store next to where First Merchants Bank is now, at 824 Logan St., Noblesville, and when Cox had a chance to buy a building in Alexandria, he sold the Noblesville store to Howard Sr. and Howard Jr., when he came home from the service in 1945. The family went on to run their third-generation family grocery business, in four different buildings, until 1998.

Howard Kenley Jr. said, "It turned out pretty good."

-Contact Betsy Reason at betsy@thetimes24-7.com.

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