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This Day in History: Robert Kennemore's bravery in Korea

On this day in 1950, a hero engages in an action that would earn him the Medal of Honor. Robert “Bob” Kennemore’s bravery came as he served with the 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division in Korea. The bitterly cold Battle of Chosin Reservoir was just beginning.

 

It wasn’t his first combat. Staff Sergeant Kennemore was a World War II veteran who had fought valiantly in the Pacific.  Now, he was back at it, leading a machine-gun section near Yudam-ni.  On the night of November 27-28, his company found itself in an intense fight with a numerically superior enemy force.


“The whole thing was something like a tug of war,” Kennemore later described. “We were trying to push them back and they were trying to push us back. Behind us was our regimental headquarters and regimental aid station. There were a lot of wounded kids back there. We had to hold that line.”

 

The platoon commander had become seriously injured, leaving Kennemore to take command and organize the defense.

 

He would later describe his carbine jamming and the grenades that had started to come his way. By then, he was in a slit trench with some of his men. “We were out of grenades,” he said, “and figured the only thing to do was to try to throw them back. I had already thrown one back when another one caught me.”

 

Kennemore’s Medal citation minced no words about what this brave Marine did next, describing the courageous manner in which he “placed his foot on the missile and, in the face of almost certain death, personally absorbed the full force of the explosion . . . .”

 

Perhaps you won’t be surprised to hear that this humble hero offered a different description? He made it sound as if he’d accidentally fallen on the grenade.

 

“I saw two grenades come over,” he told a reporter. “I kicked them into this foxhole that had been dug—we never got to use it. Then I reached for another one, but it was too far. I stumbled and went down on my knees over the fox hole, and well—that’s that.”

 

Kennemore had saved his fellow Marines, but he would lose both his legs. Indeed, he survived the incident only because of the Navy corpsman who found him.

 

Nearly two years later, Kennemore learned that he would receive the Medal of Honor for his actions. He was stunned, as one reporter soon discovered. She’d asked if she could interview the new Medal recipient.

 

 “Kennemore kept insisting that he hadn’t done anything,” she reported. “He didn’t even know he had been recommended for any medal. . . . According to Kennemore’s version, he just fell down and got his legs blown off that way.”

 

Kennemore would repeat the sentiment a few weeks later, as Harry Truman placed the Medal around his neck.  “It is a privilege and an honor, the highest honor anyone could receive,” the President told him. Kennemore’s sacrifice was glaringly obvious to everyone—he was standing there on two artificial legs. Yet he still responded: “It’s greater than I deserve.”

 

Another humble hero, giving his all, and expecting nothing in return.


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Primary Sources:

  • Craig Anderson, Obituaries: Korean War Hero Robert Kennemore (Oakland Tribune; May 9, 1989) (p. A-12)

  • James Walker, Kennemore Will Get Nation’s Top Honor (Greenville News; Nov. 15, 1952) (p. 1)

  • Jeff Stoffer, Our Korean War Story: Marine hero, Legionnaire for life (American Legion; Aug. 8, 2022)

  • John Flink, Hall of Heroes Honors Navy’s Medical Corps (Chicago Tribune; July 13, 1999) (Section 2; p. 3)

  • Marine Hero, Family Moves into $35,000 Gift Home (San Francisco Examiner; Feb. 15, 1955) (p. 19)

  • Medal of Honor citation (Robert Sidney Kennemore; Korea)

  • Ned Ramsaur, Honor Medal to Kennemore (Greenville News; Nov. 25, 1952) (p. 1)

  • S.C. Native Gets Medal of Honor (Times and Democrat; Nov. 27, 1952) (p. 5)

  • Virginia Dennison, Humble Marine Hero Says He Doesn’t Deserve Medal (Oakland Tribune; Nov. 16, 1952) (p. 6-A)

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