For most of his three years in the Army during World War II Ken Bender of Oyster Creek subdivision in Englewood, Fla. was a sergeant in the 31st Coastal Artillery Battalion, 3rd Army in the South Pacific hopping from island to island.
“When the war started I tried to enlist in the Naval Air Corps, but they found out I was colorblind and I washed out,” the 93-year-old local resident explained. “A short while after that I was drafted into the Army and sent to Camp McQuaide in southern California for basic. Thirteen weeks later I was sent to New Caledonia in the Pacific as a replacement soldier. I was only there a few days when I was shipped to the New Hebrides Islands.
“It was at this point I became a coastal artillery replacement. For the next 13 months I spent time there with our 6-inch naval guns and 20-mm anti-aircraft guns protecting the harbor from the enemy,” he explained. “It was very dull duty sitting there waiting for the Japanese to show up.”
The New Hebrides was a refurbishing base for Naval vessels. Damaged ships were put back together and sent back out to sea at the ship yard on the island.
“When I joined my outfit, the 31st Coastal Artillery Battalion, the battalion clerk was in the process of resigning. He spotted something in my record that said I could type. Because of my typing skills I got to be his replacement. He told me, if I took the job it was a chance for me to get some rank. The captain of our unit was from New York just like me and he took a liking to me.
“After working as a clerk typist for a while I decided I wanted to be a platoon sergeant. By then I was a staff sergeant,” Bender said.
“From the New Hebrides we were sent up to New Guinea where we prepared for the invasion of the Philippines. We spent a lot of time in Hollandia Harbor waiting for the convoy to form that was headed for the Philippines,” Bender recalled.
“I had a lot of ship time on a number of ships going from island to island. The thing I remember most was being on these troop ships was the scariest time in the Army because you were always below deck looking up at the water line.
“When we arrived in the Philippines we went in with the group a week after the initial invasion. We came ashore in Lingayen Gulf near Manill\a. The city of Manila had been leveled by the Japanese who held the city and by U.S. Navy gun fire,” he said.
World War II would be over in six months. Bender was still in the Philippines when he heard President Truman announce the war’s conclusion in August 1945. He was still there when the Japanese unconditionally surrendered aboard the Battleship USS Missouri on Sept. 2, 1945.
“I shipped out of Manila for home right after that and our ship sailed through a typhoon on the way back to San Diego,” Bender said. “I took a slow train back to Fort Dix, N.J. where I first went in the Army.
“By then I had called my folks and told them I was back at Dix, but I didn’t know when I would be discharged. I got discharged at midnight and reached my home in Albany at 2 p.m. the next afternoon,” he said. “They didn’t know when I was coming. I had been away at war for three years. It was a big deal.”
Like millions of other young men who survived the Second World War, Bender took advantage of the G.I. Bill and graduated from the State University of New York at Albany where he and his wife, Betty, met. They both became school teachers and spent the next three decades teaching in New York State high schools and colleges.
The couple retired from their teaching careers in 1983 and eventually moved to the Englewood area 15 years ago. They have two grown children: Barbara and Kenneth.
Name: Ken Bender
D.O.B: 21 Feb. 1923
Hometown: Albany, N.Y.
Currently: Englewood, Fla.
Entered Service: 1942
Rank: Staff Sergeant
Unit: 31st Coastal Artillery Battalion, 3rd Army
Commendations: World War II Victory Medal, Asia-Pacific Theater Medal, Good Conduct Medal
Battles/Campaigns: World War II – south Pacific
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, Nov. 28, 2016 and is republished with permission.
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