Veterans Voice: Kenneth Laverne Madison
Kenneth Laverne Madison was born on a farm south of Bethany. After high school graduation he and some friends went to California and found work at full-service gas stations.
He was drafted in the spring of 1943 and took basic training in North Carolina. After basic he was assigned to the 17th Airborne Division. He went to Jump School in Tennessee. Men were required to make 4 parachute jumps in daylight and one at night, after which they were deemed ready.
They shipped out of Boston Harbor on the USS Wakefield and reported that he was seasick the entire trip, and thankful he wasn't in the Navy. They landed in Liverpool and were trucked to Swindon (UK) for Glider school. They trained on the cumbersome British glider, the Horsa.
He was then assigned to the 194th Regimental Headquarters Company, INR (Intelligence and Recon Platoon). They were shipped to the front where they would make forays behind enemy lines and made maps of enemy positions.
In December they flew to France as part of General Patton's “Christmas Present” to assist the 101st Airborne Division trying to push back German troops which had created a bulge in Allied lines. The 101st was pinned down at Bastogne without water and little ammunition. The Germans made an offer for them to surrender to which General McAuliffe famously replied, “Nuts!”
There were 9,642 men in the 17th Airborne Division, and they faced the coldest winter in European history. Many of the men were not issued overshoes or overcoats. The snow was 2 feet deep and they slept in foxholes with zero temperatures. Many ended up with frozen feet and fingers. Many casualties were due to the weather.
The “Battle of the Bulge” became a “battle to the finish” against Von Rundstedt's armored Panzers. Ken's first major battle began on January 4, 1945 on what became known as “Dead Man's Ridge”. The first day's battle took place in a blinding snowstorm. The 17th came under fire from German tanks, artillery, and snipers hidden in every patch of trees. When the American tanks arrived, they were almost completely destroyed by hidden German 88's. American troops fought German tanks with only bazookas.
The hillside was covered with American bodies, and the medical stations were full of wounded men. On the 4th day of the battle, the American troops unloaded their heavy packs in preparation for a full frontal attack. They encountered heavy machine gun fire and tanks at point-blank range, but their assault turned the tide of the battle.
They went on to capture small towns and villages with the Germans putting up only light resistance. The Germans stood and fought at the town of Flamierge with troops and tanks. American bazookas took out a number of German tanks in close-hand battle. The Americans scuttled the Germans, captured the town, weapons, ammo, and a food supply truck. That night American troops watched as snow covered their buddies on Dead Man’s Ridge.
The Germans retreated to the Siegfried Line, a heavily fortified German line. Men of the 17th had to clean out snipers from the woods and buildings, land mines on the road, and German 88’s. They entered the town of Compogne at night and engaged in house-to-house fighting. They fought their way to the Ardennes Forest.
The battle of the Ardennes Forest lasted for 5 weeks before the 17th Division prevailed. The Germans were unable to penetrate American lines at the Battle of the Bulge. The next push was to the Our River. Germans had set up heavily fortified positions on the river from which they had a wide view of approaching troops. The river was at flood stage, and many lives were lost trying to cross. But two companies did make it across and settled on the German side. The 17th Airborne made nightly raids on the Siegfried line.
But the 17th suffered heavy casualties and were no longer at regimental size. They were relieved by the 6th Armored Division on February 10th, after 5 weeks of continual fighting. However, the 17thhad put the Germans on the run.
The 193rd was merged with the 194th Glider Infantry Regiment. They participated in Operation Varsity, which was the last full-scale invasion of enemy territory. 4000 airplanes were involved, including 150 gliders from the 194th. They landed at Wesel, Germany. Many gliders were hit by the enemy and only 5 or 6 were salvageable after the landing. Ken lost a good friend who was shot in the forehead while exiting his glider.
Allied forces overcame the German resistance, but suffered heavy casualties, over 2000 men in the 2-day operation. There were 150 small battles along this area of the Rhine. They crossed the Rhine on pontoons constructed by the 139th Engineers.
Fox Company stormed a German Command Post, caught them by surprise and captured German officers, including a Colonel. One alert soldier spotted maps which revealed the location of German positions. The road was now open to Berlin.
They quickly took the city of Munster and found buildings full of supplies, a real souvenir trove. At this point the 17th Airborne had captured 7,851 German soldiers. Many were young and obviously frightened. The 194th captured Gestapo headquarters.
After V-E day, the 194th took control of captured Germans until they could be sent home.
Ken was discharged from the Army on December 13th, 1945. He opened a gas station in Bethany, sold it two years later, and then traveled as a representative for Independent Auto. Afterwards he purchase land and opened an auto salvage yard which he ran for 43 years.
In 1952 he was elected to the Bethany City Council. He later served as Mayor of Bethany for 14 years. On May 19th of 1946 he married Eloise Quinton and were married for 58 years before her passing in 2004.
They had 5 children. He hopes the American people will continue to honor our flag.
This story was rewritten from “World War 2 Heroes of Harrison County”, compiled by Jane Smith