Most men my age, served during Vietnam in one form or another. After I graduated from Southern Illinois University, I entered the Air Force. Ken went into the Army.
I was born and grew up in Illinois, southern Illinois in Benton, IL, the Franklin County seat. I attended Benton Consolidated High School along with several hundred others. One of those in my class was Kenneth W. Tate, a very distant cousin from my mother’s side.
Ken was a tall, lanky, farm boy, who lived, if I recall correctly, to the northeast from Benton. I lived on another farm in the opposite direction. If it weren’t for the occasional family get-togethers and high school, I’d probably never have met him. But we were distantly related and we did attend high school together. We ran around with the same bunch and were geeks and band-members. I played a trombone, Ken played the drums.
For him, like many of us, being in the band was more of an opportunity to get out of PE class that is was for music. The school felt that being in the marching band in the fall was sufficient to meet the state’s PE requirement. That drew many into our band clique.
Ken and I took the same math and science classes. We were lab partners for Biology, Chemistry and Physics…the standard college-prep curriculum. When we graduated in 1964, I went off to Southern Illinois University. Ken started classes at a nearby Junior College but he didn’t attend long.
The draft was in force during that time. It was a strong motivator to remain in school with a 2-S deferment. Rather than being drafted, Ken enlisted in the Army. I lost track of him until a couple of years later when I received a letter from my father. Inside with the letter was a clipping…Ken’s obituary. I didn’t know the details until later.
From the Benton Evening News, September 18, 2009. (The original link no longer works.)
Benton, Ill. —
A trip to Northern Illinois by a U.S. Army veteran resulted in an emotional tribute to a Benton man who died in the Vietnam War.
Joe Hare of Columbia, Ky., on Tuesday honored the memory of fellow Black Lions 28th U.S. Infantry member Kenneth W. Tate, who was killed in action on Sept. 6, 1967 — two days after his 21st birthday.
Hare and his wife, Pat, were joined by some of Tate’s family members and friends at his gravesite in the Masonic & Odd Fellows Cemetery.
“It’s not easy, is it?” Hare asked, his voice trembling. “I didn’t think I would do this bad.”
Tate was the first person from Franklin County to die in Vietnam.
“I’ve forgotten how many people came to his funeral,” said Tate’s stepsister, Alana Day, “but there were 140 cars at the funeral home.”
There’s a bit more information here at the Virtual Wall. I didn’t know Ken was a LRRP (Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol). All that we heard was that he was on a patrol and was killed. Someone, I don’t remember who now, said he was killed by a mine. I don’t know if that’s true or not. It doesn’t really matter, now.
I don’t know why I keep thinking of Ken. We weren’t all that close. Circumstances put us together fifty years ago for a period of time. I can still remember his face.
Perhaps it is, as someone once said, that as long as we remember, they aren’t really gone but live within us. I have no doubt Ken and I will meet again…and laugh remembering when we made nitroglycerin and bombed pigeons outside the window of our 2nd floor High School Chemistry lab using an eyedropper.