Meals-on-Wheels client, Kenneth Bryant of Waxahachie, will be the first to tell you, he’s no hero, though he served his country not only at Okinawa during World War II, but he didn’t hesitate when his country needed him again during the Korean conflict. Mr Bryant At 87,
Bryant’s recall is impressive. He grew up in the neighboring community of Blooming Grove where he met his wife of 67 years. Fabris Sykes lived just a quarter mile away from the Bryant home and once Kenneth met her, he knew this browned-eyed girl would play a significant role in his life.
Then on Dec. 7, 1941, Bryant’s life would be dramatically altered when the Japanese attacked the Pearl Harbor Naval Base in Oahu, Hawaii. “My life like millions of Americans changed forever,” he said. “Our military was not prepared for the unprovoked attack and more than 2,000 Americans died on ships and on the ground.”
After Kenneth and Fabris tied the matrimonial knot on Valentine’s Day the following year, Kenneth joined the Navy less than one month later. In addition to a variety of skills he acquired during his military stint, the Texas native was trained to help build hospitals – working specifically in plumbing and pipe fitting.
Just shy of his 24th birthday, Bryant was shipped out to join thousands of sailors, soldiers, airmen and marines at Okinawa in 1945. Bryant said he was unaware that on the first of April in 1945, the battle for the strategic island had begun and more than 100,000 Japanese fighting men were embedded on the island. “I later learned that this island was desperately wanted by both the Japanese and the Americans,” Bryant said. “It was to be the launching point for the eventual invasion of Japan, which I found out, was scheduled for spring, 1946.”
Bryant was part of a 250-man construction crew creating a hospital on the island where hostile conditions warranted they be on constant alert to the countless Japanese snipers located throughout the area. Bryant also acted as body guard and driver to the unit’s official photographer, a seaman whose last name was Bass.
Despite the German surrender in May, Bryant said the Japanese were not prepared to relinquish their foothold. “Japan was committed to fighting to the death and we were going to have to invade their homeland,” Bryant explained. “I did not hear or see the atomic bombs that were dropped on Japan in August of 1945…it was probably several hundred miles from where I was but I found out about it very quickly.”
Bryant recalled the day Japan surrendered – Aug. 15, 1945 – as one of jubilant commemoration among his comrades on the island. “I remember we all went outside and shot our guns into the air in celebration,” he said. “One of my treasured photos by Bass is of hundreds of tracer bullets being fired into the sky on that date.”
The Japanese snipers embedded on the island, however, were not ready to admit defeat and continued to fire upon American military personnel. And if that weren’t enough, a typhoon swept over the island in October. “I rode out the 90-mile-per-hour winds underneath a huge rock,” Bryant said. “Our base was in shambles after the storm.” Bryant finally returned to the states in November but was called back to the Navy during the Korean conflict in 1951.
The Bryants have a rich military history – son William Jefferson Bryant served in the Army during the Viet Nam war. Bryant’s sister Lillian lost her only son, Gary Watkins, in Viet Nam and Bryant’s youngest grandson, Phillip Justin Foster, served aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt and the USS Ronald Reagan in both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. “And he’s in his 10th year in the Navy,” Bryant proudly announced.
“It was an honor to be able to serve my country,” Bryant continued. “I am proud of my country and I am proud that I was a part of something that will remain in the history of mankind.”
Meals-on-Wheels serves more than 750 clients like the Bryants throughout Johnson and Ellis Counties each day. Resources, such as volunteers and donations, are needed to continue the services to the homebound elderly and disabled throughout the county.
Those interested in volunteering, donating, or who know of someone in need of services are asked to call Meals-on-Wheels at 972-351-9943, or access the organization’s web site at: www.servingthechildrenofyesterday.org. Meals-on-Wheels is a community-based non-profit organization serving the residents of Ellis County since 2001.