NewsLocal News


93-year-old veteran recalls WWII memories after family discovers hundreds of letters and photos

Posted at 8:01 AM, Jul 31, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-01 09:30:03-04

Corporal Kenneth Groenke specialized in communication during World War II. Now at 93-years-old, the great-grandfather is still sharing life-changing messages.

“I was getting up in age. There won't be too many of us left,” said Groenke.

The retired marine corporal looks back with a wide grin and deep laugh on his time serving our country, but admits those years, “Oh, they were very tough.”

From boot camp to battle, he found peace in writing to his family, as well as the letters they would send him back.

The memories would have been lost had his daughter Jennifer not stumbled on an old family trunk that hadn’t been opened for nearly 75 years. Inside, “There are over 200 letters I wrote home,” said Groenke.

The words on the pages show he was just a young boy at time.

There were also pictures, prayer books, old uniforms, even on old pillbox all saved and untouched by time.

“He knew this was historic and this kind of war had never happened before,” said daughter Jennifer Kasbohm.

“I wanted people to know how tough it was for the Japanese,” said Groenke.

Groenke, who is from Racine, enlisted in the Marine Corps when he was 17-years-old after graduating high school.

“I hitchhiked to Milwaukee to enlist,” said Groenke.

He served our country in one of the world's most pivotal times. What we learned, he lived.

He described to TODAY'S TMJ4 the Kamikaze strikes through his eyes, not a history book.

“They had most of the marines down in the hole so we wouldn't get blown off the ship. I looked at the walls and they were about 40 feet high,” he said.

The veteran says his troop was among the first to respond to Nagasaki following the atomic bomb. He remembers survivors being hungry.

“A big stretch of people up the mountains as far as you could see in Nagasaki and they were holding out their hands," he said. "The little kids would hands up to try and reach the top of the truck they couldn't. We would hand them K-rations. That’s all we had. They started believing in us, that we weren't going to kill them. I prayed for everyone."

His prayer now is that his legacy teaches everyone love, compassion and friendship.