Kenneth E. Darnell
1 LT
U. S. Army
Korean War
Dates of Service: 03/15/1952 - 03/15/1955
Company Commander, L Company, 65th Puerto Rican Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division
Audio Samples

To a driller in the oil fields and a mother who grew up in a boarding house, Kenneth was born in Webster Parish, Louisiana, between the two small towns of Sarepta and Shongaloo. His mother was Mary Walden, and his father, Morris Clifford Darnell, who appeared one day to lodge at the boarding house run by Mary's mother. "He had just returned from his stint in Venezuela and was about 25 years old. She said he was a handsome guy with a suntan and had an A-Model with a rumble seat in it," Kenneth recalls of his parents. Soon after his parents' marriage, they moved to East Texas in the early 1930s, where the large East Texas oil field had been discovered. Later, in working for Texaco, the Darnells moved to Colombia, South America, where the family of four (Kenneth had a youngster sister, Jane Goodwin) lived for 27 years. Kenneth was nine when they left the States. In Colombia, he learned he was sort of a good luck charm with his red hair. Locals thought it brought good luck to rub a red-haired child. They lived in Cucuta, on the border with Venezuela. The house was built for the climate, with three patios open at the top. A river ran through town, and "there was a nice breeze all the time," he recalls. It was "a pleasant place to live", with only a rainy season and dry season. The family moved often with his father's work: to southern Argentina, to Canada, Wyoming and Mississippi, all during the 1930s. During the Depression, Morris never lost his job. Kenneth attended the company-sponsored Calvert School, an "extension school", he calls it, headquartered in Baltimore, Maryland. He finished high school in New London, Texas in 1947. He went on to LSU where he served in ROTC. "I liked the military. I'd always liked the military," he says. Meanwhile, in summer he would return to the South American oilfields where he worked in the chemical laboratory as a chemist. Kenneth earned a degree in chemistry, graduated in 1951, and was commissioned as a regular army officer. He entered active duty on 15 March 1952 as a regular Army officer, because he had graduated at the top of his class. On 29 March 1952 he married June Swan of Marksville, Louisiana, whom he had met at an Ole Miss football game in Tiger Stadium. "She had come with another boy. He made the mistake of letting her sit next to me. To be poetic, I was smitten," he remarks. (He and June would have three daughters, Mary, Lisa and Sara, four grandchildren and one great-grandchild. June passed away in 2010.) Kenneth was sent to Fort Benning, Georgia for a five-month Officer Candidate School. Soon after OCS, he was flown on a civilian airplane to Korea, arriving at Pusan in December of 1952. It was after the Inchon Landing, and after the North Korean army had been effectively destroyed. Soon, the Chinese entered the fray. Kenneth was assigned to Lima Company of the 65th Regiment, a Puerto Rican Regiment, of the 3rd Infantry Division, an assignment given him because he was bilingual. He initially served as 1st Platoon leader, then executive officer then finally company commander. He recalls fighting in weather of 20 and 30 degrees below zero. "At that point of the war, it was hill battles and these very uncomfortable patrols; all night patrols, combat patrols, ambush patrols, recon patrols. Most of mine were ambush patrols." He recalls ambushing two Chinese patrols on consecutive nights. In waiting in ambush, everyone was so wet and cold "you'd pray for a firefight where you could bring it to a conclusion and go back to where there was a fire somewhere." While he ate frozen C-rations, his Puerto Ricans preferred rice. Treats were meals when hot food was brought to them in insulated mermite cans. Kenneth particularly praises the MASH hospitals. "Statistically, 92 per cent of the people who were alive when they got to the MASH hospitals survived," he says. The enemy troops weren't very well supplied, he recalls. Often on Chinese dead possessions consisted of only a small bag of rice and opium pills, "their equivalent of whiskey, probably. False courage," he explains. His company served in a place of honor as the Puerto Rican regiment was trusted to serve as rear guard when the Marines were retreating from the Chosin Reservoir. Kenneth was in Lima Company from 19 February 1952 to 14 November 1953. He received the Meritorious Bronze Star. Meanwhile, he and June's daughter, Mary, was born while he was in Korea. The American Red Cross notified him of the birth. Kenneth was offered promotion to captain if he would extend three months. He refused; he wanted to see his wife and daughter. He has the highest regards for his Puerto Rican soldiers. "I never saw a Puerto Rican act like he was scared of anything," he remarks. Kenneth returned to the States by ship in November of 1953. At Fort Polk, Louisiana he was company commander of a weapons company, a job he detested. "I was a warrior. It might sound funny to somebody to say they enjoyed combat, but it beat the hell out of boredom," he remarks. He then attended Army Transportation School at Fort Eustis. There he was discharged in March of 1955 and was hired by Halliburton the same month. He worked his way up the ranks to division manager. As in his boyhood, he and his family traveled extensively for his work, making homes in Venezuela, Argentinia, Canada, Wyoming, Mississippi, and Oil City, Louisiana. He retired in 1983 in Wichita, Kansas, but moved to Cass County, Texas, and built a home on land that had been family property for 155 years. 2