Kenneth H. Mort of Jamesport knew early in life he wanted a career in the military. He entered the Reserves in 1955, but enlisted in the regular U.S. Army for three years. Following Basic Training, he was assigned to Battery 4, 4th Missile (Nike-Ajax) 56th Artillery in Bristol, Rhode Island. The men in this unit were WW2 and Korean War vets, plus many young troops, including Kenneth. He was able to learn much from the experienced men, constantly improving his knowledge of all things military.
There is a saying in the military, “Don’t volunteer for anything.” Kenneth made no notice, he volunteered for “everything.” He made four formal requests for Vietnam, but was never assigned there.
However, his eagerness and knowledge were soon noticed. By 1963 Kenneth gained the title of Fire Control Platoon Sergeant. He then applied for Infantry OCS (Officer Candidate School) and was sent to Fort Benning, GA. Six months later he graduated as a 2nd Lieutenant. This was quite an honor for someone with only a high school diploma.
Kenneth took every course possible and attended Airborne Training and was subsequently assigned to the Officer Leadership Training Company at Fort Knox, KY. Afterwards he was assigned as Executive Officer and Tactical Officer. His major duty was the training of Allied Student Cadets from Africa and the Middle East. The greatest difficulty with this assignment was overcoming the language barrier, but he credits the perseverance of these young recruits.
In the fall of 1965 Mort was assigned to Ranger Training, again at Fort Benning, which he described as exceedingly difficult. There were frequent 30-mile hikes with full combat gear, parachute jumping, and swimming. Note: Mort could not swim, but an allowance was made for him.
Following Ranger training, Lt. Mort was assigned to the First Battalion, 9th Infantry (Manchu), 2nd Infantry Division in Korea. On Jan. 3, 1966, he assumed command of Charlie Company. Charlie Company was known as the “point of the spear”, with a distinguished career dating back to General Custer’s time. As a young man, he was extremely proud of this distinction.
The Battalion was assigned to the DMZ, a 2.5 mile wide, 151 mile long zone separating North and South Korea. Mort describes the area as a nightmare of artillery craters, barbed wire, mine fields, graveyards, and the demolished remains of homes and villages, destroyed rice paddies, booby-traps, etc.
On the 29th of June, C Company was patrolling the DMZ when they stumbled into a mine field. Two mines exploded injuring members of the Company. Kenneth was trying to get to the wounded when he, too, stepped on a land mine. Mort lost his right foot and his right arm was severely damaged. He was evacuated to Seoul, South Korea, for two weeks, then to San Francisco, before transfer to Fitzsimmons Army Hospital for surgeries and rehab. He received a temporary retirement from the Army in October of 1967.
Kenneth received the Army Commendation Medal for gallantry and bravery in connection with his heroism in attempting to help the wounded during the land mine incident. He also received a Purple Heart, Korea Defense Service medal, Good Conduct Medal, Parachute badge, Expert Infantry badge, Expert badge with Bayonet and Pistol bars, and the Ranger Tab.
Mort said the weather was exceedingly cold in Korea, yet he remembers seeing children outside playing without clothes. He said that the Korean people let nothing go to waste. Civilians would follow the troops in order to pick up empty shell casings, and would dig lead out of a bank after, and sometime during, target practice. He said the Korean people were non-aggressive and energetic.
Mort sincerely wanted to go to Vietnam, feeling he could contribute there. He made four formal requests, all of which were denied. He was told there were other plans for him and to just “go where you are told.”
Following discharge, Kenneth returned to Missouri and worked as an agricultural loan officer at First National Bank of Gallatin. He currently lives with his wife Kathryn in Jamesport. He operates a cattle operation with his son, Kraig. He has a passion for Native American artifacts and has a nice collection.
— written by Mike Hanrahan for the Cameron Citizen-Observer