FORMER POW CELEBRATES 91ST BIRTHDAY
WITH FAMILY AND FRIENDS
By Joe Ditler
CORONADO – His birthdays had occurred in a variety of locations over the past nine decades – in Coronado as a young boy; on the Queen Mary headed to war; in the cockpit of a P-38 over Italy; and on a forced march through snow and ice while the reluctant guest of Adolf Hitler at Stalag Luft III – a POW camp for allied pilots, run by German pilots.
Colonel Dick Kenney had survived it all, and recently treated his closest friends and family to a celebratory 91st birthday breakfast at Coronado Yacht Club.
“I don’t want any publicity … no photographs, no presents and no publicity,” he growled in the days leading up to his birthday.
Undaunted by his bluster, friends and family enjoyed a morning that included breakfast, cake, singing, lots of birthday cards and a handful of thoughtful presents. They got no complaints from the Colonel.
Several of the gifts reflected Kenney’s time piloting the P-38 fighter over the skies of Africa, Italy and Germany during World War II.
The P-38 was an incredible airplane, used for long-range bombing, reconnaissance missions and feared as a fighter in both the Pacific and Atlantic theatres of war.
Because of the plane’s unusual profile – twin booms framing a lone pilot and fuselage - the Luftwaffe nicknamed it the “fork-tailed devil,” the Japanese nickname for it translated as, “two planes, one pilot.”
Colonel Dick Kenney flew the P-38 fiercely through the skies over Europe, logging four confirmed kills before being forced down twice in flames. He was fortunate to walk away, although his second walk found him in Stalag Luft III, a POW camp that inspired the book and film, “The Great Escape.”
Perhaps the biggest 91st birthday surprise for Colonel Kenney came on the eve of his birthday when he received a telephone call from a retired serviceman. The man brought news that Kenney might be eligible for a third Purple Heart because of the forced march he endured in 1945 from Stalag Luft III deep into the heart of the collapsing Third Reich.
The Germans wanted to keep the allied pilots out of the hands of the encroaching Russian army so 10,000 POWs were forced to march in the dead of winter during the worst storm in 50 years.
The caller also identified a handful of other survivors from Stalug Luft III and is forwarding a list to Colonel Kenney in the hope he can locate a lost friend.
beginning to the end of the war.
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