NORTH AUGUSTA — Independence Day is doubly meaningful for Americans who also have July 4 as their birthday, and World War II veteran Jack Spruill Kendall, now 95 years old, is part of that tremendous group.
Kendall, a native of Florence, saw action during the closing months of the titanic conflict, serving as the navigator of a B-24 "Liberator" (heavy bomber) in action mostly over the Philippines. He was a part of 24 missions, en route to a career in engineering that included helping with construction of J. Strom Thurmond Dam (also known as Clarks Hill Dam).
He recalled a childhood joke that he played on his sister. "I told her the calendar had a red 'July 4th' because it was my birthday. She believed me … but it was an occasion."
He also shared the memory of another family member: Forest Virgil Kendall, also born in 1924. "I was a twin, and my twin died when we were 3 years old. He had an intestinal obstruction, and back then, they didn't know what to do for him. Now, they could've saved him today, with surgery, but that was … in 1927 that he died."
Kendall also had another brother – three years older, and now deceased – who became a fighter pilot and was shot down over France while conducting a raid on a German airfield. He parachuted out and was captured but managed to escape "through the underground." That brother, Jim Locke Kendall, eventually became a lieutenant colonel.
Kendall laughingly added, "He, I guess, was more of a hero than I was, but … he stayed in the military for 20 years, and his last assignment, he was a pilot for the generals in the Air Defense Command, so he had a real career in the service."
Both of the airborne Kendalls started in the Army Air Corps, which eventually became the Air Force.
As a navigator guiding B-24s to and from their targets, the future Aiken County resident sat "right behind the pilot," at a window. His unit, the 31st Bombardment was based on Samar, the third-largest of the islands that comprise the Philippines. "I was just overseas from March '45 to September," he recalled.
"I was going to be a pilot. I had a brother that was a pilot, and I went as far as primary pilot school, in Sikeston, Missouri. Had a little open-wing, open-cockpit plane – PT-19, I believe it was – and I got washed out as a pilot, so they sent me to gunnery school down in Arlington, Texas, and I finished gunnery school and I told them I wanted to be a navigator, so they sent me up to Monroe, Louisiana, and I got my commission as a second lieutenant and as a navigator in October of '44."
The next step was to be assigned to a B-24 crew, for training in Tonopah, Nevada, and then to fly "all the way to New Guinea. The Philippines were next, with most missions reaching out to Borneo, to help cut off Japan's oil supply.
"We were bombing the refineries to help keep them from getting the oil, and it essentially cut them off from fuel. They had no fuel to fly that Zero they had, so we were able to fly our missions uninterrupted. We didn't have a single attack on our plane from a Japanese plane, but we got anti-aircraft fire over the targets, and one mission over Formosa – I think they call it Taiwan now – we got a hole in our plane at 16,000 feet, but we were able to get back to base, and that was the worst experience I had as a navigator."
His immediate neighbors on a B-24, he said, included the pilot, co-pilot, bombardier, flight engineer, radio operator and gunners – 10 men, and all around the age of 21. "We were all young. I turned 21 on Samar."
One year earlier – July 4, 1944 – he was "in the states," he said. "I must have been still in training." He estimated that he was in Starkville, Mississippi. "It was hot as heck in Starkville."
The B-24, Kendall said, was extremely loud. "It had four big engines, and they were noisy. There was no hearing protecting. We didn't use headphones or anything back then, so … I attribute my hearing loss to the B-24," said Kendall, who has used a pair of hearing aids for about 30 years.
Kendall wrapped up his wartime experience in one healthy piece and still – more than seven decades later – mows his own lawn, on Gregory Lake Road, and walks without assistance. "I had genes from my mother. She lived to 104, so I'm hoping I've got a few more years."
The post-war years included 50 years of marriage to "a Sikes from North Augusta" – Ida Virginia Sikes. "She grew up on Pine Grove, right across from Bush's Florist," Kendall said.
"When I was here on construction of Clarks Hill Dam, I got a room at her aunt's house … Her aunt introduced me to Ida," and marriage was the result two years later.
Along the way, the former navigator earned a bachelor's degree in engineering from Georgia Tech, to be followed by a masters of engineering in 1981 from the University of South Carolina.
Two children became part of the Kendall household: Gordon, who now lives in Roanoke, Virginia; and Jacqueline, now in Columbus, Georgia. The mother of the house, who became head of pediatrics at University Hospital, died in 2001.
Kendall's traveling is now done on the ground, as he navigates the CSRA by car and also rides his three-wheeled bicycle (which he assembled by hand) around his property daily to fetch his newspaper and mail. He has lived in the same house since 1990.
Referring to the bike, he said, "It came from China. Each piece was wrapped in bubble wrap, and I assembled it. I've had it about five years, I think."
He also recalled some issues that he faced recently with one of his lawn mowers, and added, "As an engineer, you've got to be able to make things work."