McCrabb: Purple Heart recipient, Army veteran says Vietnam was ‘my war, my time’

Sgt. John Kahne to serve as grand marshal of Middletown’s Memorial Day Parade.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

MIDDLETOWN — Playing Army as a young boy in his backyard was much more fun than the real thing as a young man in a foreign country.

Sgt. John Kahne, 75, an Armco retiree living in Middletown, fondly remembers his childhood when he pretended to be an Army soldier.

So when Kahne, whose father was an Army veteran, was midway through his junior year at Middletown High School, he asked his mother, Betty, to sign a release form so he could enlist in the Army before his 18th birthday. He didn’t care much for school. He wanted to serve his country.

He chose the military over mathematics.

“Army guy all the way,” he said recently while sitting on his porch swing, a lit cigarette lying nearby. “I loved it. I love the military.”

For his four years of service that included 11 months in Vietnam, Kahne, a Purple Heart recipient, is serving as the grand marshal of Middletown’s Memorial Day Parade. As is customary for the grand marshal, Kahne was offered a seat in a convertible, but he prefers driving his 2007 Hummer that’s decorated with Army decals.

After he graduated from infantry training, he was assigned to the 199th Infantry at Ft. Benning, Ga., and deployed to Vietnam in 1966. It was his first and last time on a ship. He was seasick the entire trip. He was one of the fortunate ones.

One Army soldier jumped overboard for unknown reasons, and his body never was recovered, Kahne said. Another casualty of the war.

Kahne served in the Army from 1966-1969, and on June 4, 1967, one month before he was scheduled to leave Vietnam, he was ambushed and shot in the right hand while holding a machine gun.

He said the Vietnamese soldiers tried to shot those with machine guns in the head to “discourage somebody else” from picking up the weapon.

Kahne called his 11-month Vietnam tour “a lifetime. You know, when you’re just a young kid, you’re scared to death. It was a terrible time in my life.”

He paused for a second, then added: “But at the same time, it was a proud time. My war, my time. That’s the way I looked at it.”

When Kahne returned to the U.S., he, like other Vietnam veterans, was disrespected by protestors. Vietnam was an unpopular war, and those who served there, even though they were following orders, were called “murderers” and “baby killers,” he said.

“Sometimes,” he said. “I wish I’d never made it back home.”

What? Why?

“I don’t know,” he answered. “I think about that all the time. Coming back home and the demonstrators turned against you, I guess.”

Kahne, a member of the VFW Post 2809 and American Legion Post 218, certainly hasn’t let that sentiment keep him from paying tribute to fallen veterans. He reads the obituaries in the Journal-News daily, and when somebody is a veteran, he tries to attend their funeral. He recently was contacted about a veteran from Kentucky who died. Since the soldier had no family, Kahne attended his funeral.

The front yard of his Middletown home is a shrine to veterans. There is a concrete marker that reads: “Freedom is not free.” There are two concrete Army soldiers holding POW and MIA flags.

On certain nights, as Kahne sits on his porch, he thinks about those who never returned home from Vietnam, those who flew home in flag-draped caskets and those who later died after serving their country.

“When one of them dies, it’s like a piece of me dies too,” he said. “I lose a brother.”

That’s the difference between backyard games and reality.


WHAT: Middletown Memorial Day Parade and ceremony

WHEN: Parade starts at 10 a.m. Monday from Smith Park and follows Verity Parkway to Woodside Cemetery where a ceremony starts at 11:30 a.m.

WHO: Grand marshal: Ret. Sgt. John Kahne. Welcome: Mayor Nicole Condrey. Keynote speaker: Middletown Municipal Court Judge James Sherron. National Anthem: Cadence Wilmot, Madison High School. American Flag Jump: Start Skydiving. God Bless America: Nancy James.


Read about Hamilton’s parade grand marshal and see a list of Memorial Day events throughout the area.

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