Nember 6, 2000
Veterans Day honors ordinary heroes
by Becky Nixon
It took me 40 years to really listen to the answers my father gave me in response to the question, "What did you do in the war, daddy?"
I had known he was in intelligence, but I didn't know exactly what he did when he served his country, or what he experienced.
So this time I listened with intensity and admiration for as an ordinary man, a citizen, my father, Ken Browning, related his war experiences to me in celebration of Veteran's Day.
He served this country twice ‹ during World War II from 1943-1946 and again in the Korean War from 1950-1951.
In 1943, Browning was inducted into the army in the 20th Air Corps. During World War II there were no separate divisions of the armed forces, just different sections of the Army. After basic training in Harvard, Neb., he was assigned to the island of Guam as an intelligence specialist.
The 20th Air Corps was made up of the B-29s used to bomb the Japanese. He helped brief fighter groups on targets to be bombed during raids, and then debriefed the pilots on assessed damage.
His duties included scanning classified materials, summarizing all the reports and submitting weekly updates to the base officers and commanders.
During his stint on Guam, he and seven enlisted men became lifelong friends. They had gone through basic training together, and though their squadron lost no planes, four of those friends died in an accident on the island involving a gas leak and a jeep.
"You made good friends. We all liked the camaraderie we had. We didn't worry about the danger, because everyone was involved in it," Browning said. "All GIs complained about the food. It was a favorite topic. Sometimes we ate spam three times a day. There was no entertainment or anything to do outside Army life," Browning recalled.
Arriving on the island, the Army would clear the jungle and put up pup tents until the larger tents and plywood barracks were set up.
There were no laundry facilities; each soldier washed his own clothes. The monsoon season was a rain-soaked nightmare.
"Your wallet would mildew in your pants pocket at night, and anything leather was also mildewed everyday, including your boots. Clothes were always damp and mildewy," said Browning recalling the rain, humidity and heat.
"We had crude water barrels for showers. Jungle rot (sores from constant dampness) had to be treated.
Still, morale was high. We made the best of it. We especially looked forward to mail time. We all wrote letters. Jean (Browning's wife, my mother) and I wrote every day. We were engaged before I went overseas," he said.
The Japanese had been defeated on Guam, but U.S. forces would still find some living in the caves and bring them in. A favorite pastime was listening to Tokyo Rose on the radio. The infamous Japanese, female propagandist, who was never named, spoke her broken English to the delight of ridiculing American troops on Guam. She was looked forward to as a comedy routine, and was a great source of entertainment.
Beside radio, the PX (post exchange) carried popcorn, candy, and unrepentant in its day, cigarettes and beer.
"All GIs talked about was going home ‹ what they were going to do. Loved ones. But once you came home it was a whole different routine. I was restless. Lots of guys went through the same thing, a time of indecision. Didn't know what to do. I had been used to being responsible for only me. Did I really want to get married? I broke my engagement to Jean," Ken admitted.
"I worked on the oil leases in Texas with my dad for awhile. Realized I loved your mother, and did want to get married, so I asked her again to marry and we set a date. The GI bill was available then. I went back to school and got my B.A. and most of my master's degree, and I married your mother," Browning said.
During the Korean War, Browning was again in Operational Intelligence. This time he was stationed at Fort Worth, Texas; Headquarters of the 8th Air Force. His job entailed gathering intelligence reports, keeping up on the air orders and battles, briefing the officers and base generals in the morning on the progress of the war; how many were killed of our troops and the enemy.
Ken Browning has always been my hero. Devoted husband of fifty-four years. Beloved father of three girls. This veteran of two wars, like all American veterans, will never be ordinary. Remember Veteran's Day this November 10, 2000.