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  Texas : Features : WWII :

THE THREE WARS OF LT. COL. KERNS

Raymond Clyde Kerns - Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Army
April 26th, 1921 - February 6th, 2008

by Noel Kerns
Lt. Col. Raymond Clyde Kerns
Raymond Clyde Kerns - Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Army
Born 26 April 1921 in rural Kentucky, my dad quit school after the eighth grade to help on his father’s small tobacco farm. At 19, he was playing guitar with friends at an amateur contest in Ohio when he met 15-year-old singer Dorothy Helen Lane. That night, he went home and told his mother, “I just met the girl I’m going to marry.”

He wasn’t sure how he was going to support a wife, but the answer came in the form of the classic "Uncle Sam Wants You" poster. He joined up and was sent to Hawaii.

At the age of six, dad had seen Lindbergh’s “Spirit of St. Louis” glide across the sky over his family's farm, and he’d wanted to fly ever since. Because he had no high school diploma, however, the Army refused to give him flight training – even though he passed the admission exam with flying colors.

Undaunted, he invested his paycheck in civilian flying lessons while stationed at Schofield Barracks, Oahu, Hawaii. Shortly after his first solo flight, Pearl Harbor was attacked, and the Army was suddenly desperate for pilots. He became one of the first forward observers of the Army Air Corps, flying a Piper L-4 above the battlefield to help the artillery to target its fire and provide guidance for American ground troops.

While he was flying his "Paper Cup" above Hawaii, New Guinea, and the Philippines, Dorothy Lane was repairing radios in warplanes at a plant in Columbus, Ohio. They had corresponded since their first meeting, but did not see each other again until a brief visit when dad returned to the States to attend Officer Candidate School in 1942.

Later that year, he proposed by telegram, and on 5 January 1943, they were married in Denton, Texas, where dad was taking additional flight training. After the brief ceremony, they walked down the street to an ice cream parlor to celebrate.

After four years of civilian life, my dad decided to make the Army his career, and returned to active duty. In the Korean conflict, he piloted both fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters. Over the years, my parents were stationed in Japan, Germany, and many stateside locations, including Camp Hanford, Washington; Washington, DC; Fort Leavenworth, Kansas; Fort Sill, Oklahoma; and Fort Hood, Texas. My sister Carol was born in 1956, and I in 1961.

My father left home again to serve in Vietnam in the late 1960s, and retired from the Army in 1972 as a Lieutenant Colonel. His many decorations include the Silver Star, the Air Medal, and various awards for meritorious achievement. He was also awarded the Purple Heart for injuries sustained during World War II, when his L4 reconnaissance plane was shot down by Japanese troops who continued to fire on him from shore as he floated near his sinking plane.

After retirement, he entered the University of Texas at Austin and earned a degree. He also became the first president of the 89th Field Artillery Battalion Association, wrote the 89th's official history, and published the Association's highly-regarded newsletter for over a decade.

On January 5th of this year, my parents celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary, and my father's account of his experiences as a liaison pilot during World War II, titled “Above The Thunder,” will be published in the fall of 2008 by Kent State University Press in Ohio.

I couldn't be more proud of my father, his life, and his accomplishments. To me, he was and always will be the definition of a true American hero.

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