The American Legion is celebrating its 100th birthday in 2019. In addition to national and statewide activities commemorating this milestone, American Post 328 of St. Joseph is planning a number of festive and patriotic activities for the community.
One of those special events will be profiles of St. Joseph-area veterans published in each Newsleader during 2019. The Newsleader is joining with Post 328 to recognize veterans and Legion members who served during World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and other theaters of conflict and Cold War tensions.
by Tom Klecker
Charles Edward Kern, 69
U.S. Army – Vietnam Era
Charles “Chuck” Kern was born in Little Falls. He was raised just outside of Little Falls in a home his father built for the family. Kern was the oldest of three. One of his brothers is deceased.
Kern best describes his upbringing “as a typical small-town, normal childhood.” While in high school he was involved in athletics, particularly baseball.
He graduated from high school in June 1968. The war in Vietnam that year was marked by what became known as The Tet Offensive (Jan. 30 through Sept. 23).
Regardless of one’s political views on the Vietnam War, this time period saw some of the most intense fighting as well as passionate anti-war protests back home. The war was perhaps the most divisive issue during this historical period in which passions were intensely felt on both sides of the debate.
Kern enlisted in the Army in October 1968. In lieu of being drafted, he signed up for three years. He explains his decision to enlist as follows: “When you love your country and your boyhood hero is John Wayne, you feel somewhat compelled to serve. I feel a kindred bond with those who have served and who now currently serve in the military.”
”For those who have never experienced those sentiments and those self-imposed obligations . . . they would likely trivialize ‘Duty. . . Honor. . .Country.’”
Kern did his basic training at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. He came out of boot camp in the “best shape of (my) life.”
From there he was sent to Fort Gordon, Georgia, for advanced infantry training. He was then sent to Fort Bliss, Texas, for three weeks of missile training on Redeye surface-to-air missile.
After three weeks of training, and somewhat contrary to initial expectations, Kern was ordered to Schweinfurt, Germany. During WW II Schweinfurt was a prime target for allied bombing raids given its strategic importance, as the ball-bearing factories were there.
Kern reports he was quite lonely for the year he was stationed there. He extended for a year beyond his initial enlistment in order to get back to the United States and change his Military Occupational Status from that of infantry to working with first-generation computers.
Kern reasoned working with computers in the Army was a transferable skill useful in civilian life compared with surfaceto-air missiles.
By way of comparison, the computer data stored 50 years ago would require the space equivalent to a semi-trailer where now the same amount of data can easily be stored in a laptop computer.
After two months of training at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana, Kern was given orders to the First Cavalry Division, Fort Hood, Texas. He spent the remaining two-and-a-half years on active duty at the Data Process Center, Fort Hood.
After four and a half years, Kern completed his active duty and was discharged in April of 1973.
About that time he presented himself to a review board and the board having reviewed his exemplary record, offered Kern a commission as a second lieutenant in the National Guard. From his entry level commissioned officer rank, Kern finished up his 23-year career in the military with the rank of major. He was released from the National Guard on his 41st birthday.
In civilian life, Kern returned to Little Falls in April 1973. Under the G.I. Bill he attended Brainerd Community College full time from 1973-75. He took a year off and worked at Camp Ripley in 1975-76. Kern resumed his education at St. Cloud State University in 1976. He enrolled in the St. Cloud Hospital School of Nursing from 1977-80.
After passing his boards, Kern worked as a registered nurse at Albany Hospital. In 1981, he started a nursing career at the Veterans Administration Hospital in St. Cloud.
At the time he retired from the V.A., after 28 years, Kern was a staff nurse, case manager and a nurse manager. Retiring in June 2009, he had racked up 32-½ years of military and federal employee history.
While attending Brainerd Community College, Kern met his future wife, Mary Kay. They had their first date on St. Patrick’s Day 1974 and married in 1979.
Mary Kay is a retired special education teacher.
The Kerns have been married for 40 years. With both retired, they enjoy their comfortable home in Peasant Acres. The couple has two daughters and a granddaughter they shamelessly dote on.
Kern is involved in numerous volunteer roles. Currently, he is the American Legion Post 328 commander. He is a good golfer, enjoys movies, books of fiction, travel . . .and did we say golf.
Kern would recommend any young man or woman to consider a military career. One would be hard pressed to find a more demonstratively patriotic person than Kern.