Kenny Steward doesn’t want to be known as a hero. Although he suffered in a German prisoner of war camp, the 87-year-old Clarksville resident said the true heroes of World War II were the ones who never came home.
Despite starvation and violence during that time, Steward admitted he had it lucky. He lived.
“Hero? Nah, I’m not a hero. I just did what at that time they did, served their country,” Steward said. “I’m very fortunate. I came through, I thank the good Lord for it.”
Even with the passage of almost 70 years, Steward still remembers certain aspects of his life as a POW in detail. Others he has forgotten, or has decided not to share. Sometimes grief can last longer than the memories themselves. There is a name, however, he can’t forget.
“I was there with one guy who was married with five kids at home. I always felt kind of sorry for him,” Steward said. “He had a family, and in my opinion he shouldn’t have been there. He was an old country boy.”
Reed would be mentioned several more times during the conversation. What happened to the soldier from Carrollton, Ky., is anyone’s guess. Steward’s cousin Dick Jones has tried to find the man on his relative’s mind, but to no avail. Jones has grown up listening to these stories of survival, and knows them well. Reed is one of the few names Steward continues to mention, most likely because he knew him longest.
Back in the U.S., Steward and Reed went through basic training together. Drafted while a senior at Manual High School in Louisville, Steward entered the Army right after graduation. With six weeks of training as an artillery man under his belt, the 18-year-old found himself on a boat with other members of the Golden Acorn’s 87th Division going to Great Britain for more extensive drill work.
And then the Battle of the Bulge — the bloodiest combat fought by the Americans during all of WWII — began. Allied reinforcements were needed, and so Steward’s ship instead of continuing to England made a sharp turn toward Le Havre, France. Upon disembarking, the young soldier immediately was driven to the front lines of the fighting.
“They greeted us with open arms,” Steward said.
Humor hasn’t been lost on the veteran, even when discussing his war memories.
“It was a hell of an experience for a 19-year-old kid, but I grew up fast.”
Shelling would eventually force his platoon to seek shelter.
“Kenny and the others were in the basement of the farmhouse trying to avoid being killed by the shelling. It was machine gun fire, rifle fire and artillery,” Jones said. “And the Germans surrounded where they were at and they hollered in there in English, ‘surrender or die.’ They stuck the machine guns in the basement windows.”
Steward and his team surrendered, taking the first step on what would become his long road to surviving incarceration by the Germans. At that moment, his journey was only beginning.