Veterans Oral History Project

Lynn Kemp: ‘Best Soldier I Could Be’


Lynn Kemp is nearing 95 and knows he has lived a good life.

“The good Lord has been awful good to me,” recalled the lifelong resident of Shinglehouse, Pennsylvania. “I never refused an order. I tried to be the best soldier I could be. I don’t know what your relationship is with God, but mine is pretty close.”

Born Oct. 29, 1920, Lynn grew up in a home on Turkey Path right off a dead-end dirt road. Times were tough growing up, Kemp said. His parents provided for their children the best they could; the family lived on potatoes, bread, milk and water.

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“We was in poverty, but we didn’t know it,” Kemp recalled. “One Christmas, I was so tickled, I got an orange and that was living high on the hog. We were happy, though; our family had love, and that’s all we needed.”

His schooling began in a one-room schoolhouse.

Kemp laughed and remembered, “I went from sixth grade to high school. I knew I wasn’t ready, but the teacher wanted us gone. So he coached me and three other fellas for the county exams in order to make it to Shinglehouse High School.”

In 1937, during the Great Depression, Kemp graduated from high school and started working on a farm for $20 a month.

“I learned to trap because a fox hide was worth 24 dollars, and one fox hide was worth a month’s wages on the farm,” said Kemp with a laugh.

In addition to working on the farm and trapping foxes, Kemp, at the age of 17, decided to do “what a lot of guys were doing” and that was drilling for oil or gas.

“The only jobs available were oil rigs,” said Kemp. “I was a tool dresser where I pounded hot iron most of the day. Part time we drilled for oil, and part time we drilled for gas.”

Kemp worked the oil fields until he was drafted. The United States declared war on Japan in December 1941 after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and three days later Germany declared war on the U.S.

“The threat of war was on everybody’s tongue during nineteen-thirty-eight, thirty-nine and forty,” Kemp said. “I was on my way into church when I heard that the war broke out.”

The day Kemp started active service in the Army was July 27, 1942. After basic training at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, he went to Camp Butner, North Carolina, for field artillery replacement training. From Camp Butner, he was transferred to Camp McCoy, Wisconsin.

“I was put on a bus to go to Camp McCoy, and I didn’t know what for,” Kemp recalled. “When I got there, they told me I was sent there to work in a copper mine because of my experience as a tool dresser. It was either discharge to work in the copper mines out West or stay in the Army, and I chose the Army.”

Kemp was sent back to Camp Butner to be with the 307 Field Artillery Battalion, where he was assigned to a cadre for field artillery replacement training. His job was to train field artillery replacements for six weeks before they were sent to fight in the war.

Kemp trained three different replacement cycles that came to Camp Butner, then shipped out on the USS Ivory Soap, bound for England with his third group of men to become part of the 78th Infantry Division. “I loved to fish, but the entire twelve days we were traveling on the ship, I was just so sick. So I never got a chance to fish,” he said. He recalled that in parentheses underneath the name The USS Ivory Soap were the words “It Floats.”

After arriving in England, the unit was sent to France but its time there was short. Its next stop was Belgium and then Germany, where, Kemp recalled, “We broke through the German defense line just south of Aukamm.”

German defense lines were full of obstacles including tank traps and pillboxes designed to slow down U.S. troop movement. The pillboxes were bunkers for German soldiers who had machine guns. The tank traps were set up to stop tank movement.

“I was a welder, so anytime my welding skills were needed, I was always called up for the job,” Kemp said. “One day, they thought it was a good idea to weld a steel door off one of these pill boxes. Scared to death, I thought for sure this was the end my mother’s youngest boy. I had no way of knowing if this pillbox had explosives in it or not. So when I welded the door off, I noticed these big black bricks. Well, come to find out it was pressed coal.”

The U.S. Army started using its engineers to blow up the pillboxes. “Engineers started using C four to touch off these German pillboxes,” Kemp remembered. “One day there was a pillbox full of explosives and when that C four went off, there were cement pieces about the size of an automobile that landed one hundred yards from the site. We lost eight men when that went off.”

Kemp and the 78th Division then made their way through Hurtgen Forest, east of the Belgian-German border, and set up their field artillery by the Rhine River at the Remagen Bridge.

The Battle at Ardennes Forest, known as the Battle of the Bulge, broke out in the early morning of Dec. 16, 1944, when Germany sent 250,000 soldiers to take 80,000 U.S. troops by surprise. The initial attack forced the Americans to retreat. The battle went on for three weeks; 600,000 German soldiers fought against 500,000 American soldiers. The tolls for death and wounded were high on both sides. The battle ended when the weather cleared up and the U.S. was able to use air strikes.

American field artillery had a big part in winning the Battle of the Bulge. Kemp explained, “The infantry are the ones that always had it the worst. I was field artillery; our job was always supporting the infantry.”

Steve Appleby, director of the Eldred World War II Museum, added to Kemp’s recollection. “When the Germans would fire one field artillery round they said ‘it seemed like there were 15 rounds being fired back at us.’ ”

Kemp noted, “The U.S. 106th infantry division took a beating during the Bulge. We called them the hungry and sick. The Bulge also took out half of our 311th infantry division because of the cold weather. The 78th division during the bulge had 15,000 men and they had 152 percent casualties. Many casualties were due to the cold weather.”

“The thing you remember the most about the Bulge is the weather,” Kemp added.

The Battle of the Bulge is well known for its cold weather. Because the trenches were so cold, men started losing toes and feet from frostbite.

“On Christmas Eve they doubled the guard,” Kemp said. “Oh man were we cold. We was given two blankets, and our guard duties were doubled. Edward Patrick McGreevy and I were on guard duty on Christmas Eve. Forty years later on Christmas Eve, I called Ed down in Cleveland. When he answered I didn’t say hello I said ‘Where was you 40 years ago?’ and he said, ‘Kemp, you one S.O.B.’”

“Yup,” Kemp said with a laugh, “he remembered where we was.”

During the Battle of the Bulge, American field artillery proved to be effective. Infantry called for field artillery a lot during the war. Kemp had the 105 Howitzer, which was a light field artillery gun. The infantry would radio back to Kemp and all other field artillery guns if they needed rounds on a location where enemy infantry or tanks were located.

“Our 105 was accurate,” said Kemp. “Everything was in mills and that made it precise where that field artillery round needed to go.”

If a coordinate was not accurate, there was the risk of taking out one of the forward observer crews, which kept eyes on the target where field artillery pieces needed to land and whether field artillery shots were accurate.

“We called it the large T,” said Kemp. “With your field artillery, you don’t give an elevation of your shot. You’re supposed to give a deflection.”

He remembered one mistake that “took out our forward observer crew. I have racked my brain trying to think of our Colonel’s name that gave the order.”

And Kemp recalled “one of the worst things” that he witnessed: “I was driving a jeep, leading these six-by-six wheeled convoys down the narrow streets of a small town in Remagen,” he said. “I got by this burned-out vehicle with the jeep, but the convoys couldn’t get through. When I got out to push this burned-out vehicle out of the way, the Krauts laid a barrage of bullets where I was supposed to be. On both sides of the street there were old men, old women and kids getting bread and milk. The German shells that were meant for me hit the civilians.”

Kemp paused for a few seconds, then said, “A soldier was one thing but a kid or woman – that’s something else.”

He added that he and the convoys got out of that little town in Remagen after being attacked by the Germans. They managed to get back to the bridge. “We never stopped to help the civilians when we were under attack,” Kemp explained. “If the Germans had hit a gallon of gasoline or ammunition on one of those six-by-sixes, it would have been worse.”

Kemp and his men were back by the Rhine River, where they were still supporting the infantry. The war was coming to an end, and Kemp, along with the rest of the 78th division field artillery, were pulled off the line to let the Russians take Berlin. The Battle of the Bulge ended Jan. 25, 1945, less than five months before Victory in Europe.

“We were off the line when the war ended. I did not go into Berlin,” said Kemp. “I had enough points to get out in October but because of transportation and all of the soldiers the Army had to transport, it wasn’t till Jan. 22, 1946, that I made it home.”

On the right sleeve of Kemp’s UTO military service jacket is the military insignia Meritorious Service Unit patch for outstanding service and achievement to the United States. 

“It was quite an experience,” Kemp said. “I never disobeyed an order and I always did what was asked of me. The meritorious award is the same award that they gave to them fellas that killed Bin Laden.”

When Kemp got home from the war, he went back to drilling for oil in Shinglehouse until 1957, then he worked for Alstom Power Inc. Air Preheater Company in Wellsville.

Kemp also married his wife, Gwendolyn, in June, five months after he returned from the war. They had known each other since they were young.

“When I got home from the war, she was all grown up,” Kemp said. “I knew Gwendolyn when she was eight years old, and married her when she was eighteen.”

Lynn and Gwendolyn were married for 62 years and had five children: Jonathan, James, Kay, Fred and Steve. Two out of the five joined the military.

“John and Jim both went into the military during the Vietnam War,” Kemp said. “John was First Air Cavalry, and Jim was a helicopter mechanic. Jonathan was well decorated, being part of the First Air Cavalry; he was dropped and picked up eighty-five times during the war. He was hit twice during the war, and he called us long before the war department did, to tell us he had been hit. John is my hero.”

In addition to his own five children, Kemp also helped bring up over 200 youths after he became a Boy Scoutmaster in 1965. Kemp trained scouts in many aspects of outdoor activities, often using his own 300 acres of farmland for campouts, building shelters and 30-foot towers, fishing, and making fires.

“I was scoutmaster for 35 years,” Kemp said with a smile. “It was my life. I had a lot of the greatest times with other people’s kids. Just a good place to raise kids. When we was camping out during the winter, I always told them ‘build your own shelters.’

“The winter campout was supposed to be for fun. It wasn’t fun. It was endurance, but I never lost a man,” Kemp added with a laugh.

The year 2000 was Kemp’s last year as a scoutmaster. He still lives in Shinglehouse down the Turkey Path near where it all started for him in 1920. His 300 acres have two ponds and a really good view. Next to his kitchen table is a big window with a bird feeder. Kemp eats his meals by the window and names the birds during the day.

“I am ninety-four years old, and a pretty good sleeper,” Kemp said. “I served my country the best I know how. I married my Gwendolyn, and we were married for sixty-two years. I had five kids and was a Boy Scoutmaster for thirty-five years. The good Lord has been awful good to me.”

# # #

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of or anyone who works for is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

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