Elkhorn World War II veteran, 91, gets Bronze Star 50 years later

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Saturday, January 28, 2012
— A 91-year-old World War II veteran gets a Kindle reader for Christmas, reads a book his daughter has loaded into it and learns he is a Bronze Star recipient.

That’s how Ken Quinlan, Elkhorn, found out 50 years had passed since the day the Army should have presented him with the medal. Sitting Friday in his daughter’s rural Elkhorn home where he lives with his wife, Laura, Quinlan talked about World War II, the Third Army, the Battle of the Bulge and his secret to a long life.

“It said in the book, ‘A Foot Soldier for Patton,’ that those of us in the 94th Infantry Division were to receive a Bronze Star,” Quinlan said. “President John Kennedy had learned about our unit and issued an executive order in 1962.”

The Bronze Star now resides next to the other medals Quinlan received for his heroic actions in battle. He carried and fired a bazooka as a member of the division’s anti-tank company.

Quinlan doesn’t dwell on his time in the European campaign. His unit fought in several famous campaigns including northern France, the Ardennes, the Rhineland and Central Europe.

“I didn’t care for the French and the German weather was lousy,” he said. “We lost a lot of good men. I was glad to go home.”

Helping Quinlan through the 18 months of battle were letters he received, usually two each week, from Laura, his fiancée at the time.

“I met her at The Storm Club in Chicago on D-Day, June 6, 1944. It was a joint on State Street north of the Loop,” he said. “She was in charge of the 26 dice game. I took one look at her, and that was that. My brother was with me, and he said I had better hurry up and marry her or he would.”

Quinlan was shipping out in two weeks.

“We saw each other twice after that before he went to war,” Laura said. “I went to the bus station with him thinking I would not see him again. But, we saw each other one more time when he went AWOL.”

Quinlan admits he wasn’t a model soldier.

“I had my moments,” he said. “I was a boxer with the CYO program as a kid. I got into a few scraps in the Army.”

Just before he shipped out from New York Harbor, Quinlan bought Laura a diamond ring and sent it to her. They would make it official a year and a half later.

“We were all proud to be associated with General George Patton,” Quinlan said. “He had a habit of showing up when things got tough.”

Quinlan recalled encountering a dangerous bridge crossing that was under enemy fire.

“We warned the general to stay off the bridge because the Germans would target him,” Quinlan said. “He showed us what he thought of the Germans and their river.”

Quinlan, in salty terms, then described how Patton, shall we say, christened the river.

Quinlan didn’t mind talking about the war during an interview at his residence, but he said he’d much rather talk about growing up on Chicago’s north side, his time in the Civilian Conservation Corps (he built a lot of fences in Highland) and Laura.

“I was a pick and ax man in the CCC,” he said. “I think they were just getting us ready for World War II.”

Ken and Laura married on Jan. 19, 1946. Laura said she had no problem waiting for him to return. He arrived in the U.S. on Christmas Eve, 1945, and was discharged New Year’s Eve. Ken and Laura were married three weeks later.

“He was a good-looking guy,” she said. “Besides, there weren’t that many guys around at the time. They were all in the Army.”

Sixty-six years later, Ken and Laura are going strong. Ken, who stands 5 feet 6 inches tall and weighs in at a trim 150 pounds, bicycles in the summer and cross-country skis in the winter. He operates with a pacemaker and one kidney, but he looks much younger than his 91 years and said he feels much younger, too.

Laura, who said she is “a few years younger” than Ken, has had no major health issues and shares her husband’s youthful appearance.

She said she’s no expert on relationships, but she has a few ideas on how to help a marriage last.

“You have to be willing to compromise and apologize,” she said. “Ken and I are different in some ways, but we respect that.”

Ken had no interest in veteran organizations when he returned from the war.

“I drove truck for 50 years, and I am a proud Teamster,” he said. “They haven’t missed one retirement check.

“As for the VFW and all that, I never joined. I was having too much fun with Laura,” he said while glancing over at his wife.

Last updated: 7:14 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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