Kenneth Montgomery of the little Fond du Lac County village of Eden was 21 years old when he enlisted in the Marines on Oct. 16, 1940.
He was destined to become the first World War II casualty from Fond du Lac County.
Pfc. Montgomery died during a raid on Butaritari Island in the Makin Atoll of the Pacific on Aug. 17, 1942, as a member of the famed Carlson’s Raiders. He and 18 other Marines were killed in the attack.
They were members of the 2nd Raider Battalion, a Marine unit organized and trained to conduct commando and guerrilla-style attacks behind enemy lines.
The Makin Raiders unit was led by then-Lt. Col. Evans Carlson and his second-in-command, Maj. James Roosevelt, son of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Carlson later said that he placed his fallen men on their backs and said a silent prayer over each one. An islander reportedly helped with the common-grave burial.
The remains of Montgomery and his fellow Marines lay buried on the island until just over two years ago when the mass grave was uncovered. The remains were transported to the U.S. Army Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii (CILHI), where dental records and DNA were used to make positive identification. After notification of next of kin, the remains were flown to the United States for burial.
On Friday, Aug. 17, 2001, 59 years from the day they were lost in battle, the remains of the Marines were buried at Arlington National Cemetery with a full honors military funeral service. A memorial service was held in the Memorial Chapel at Fort Meyer, Va., with the commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. James L. Jones as speaker. A horse-drawn caisson then transported the Marines’ remains to the burial site.
Bill Blaine of Eden knew Kenneth Montgomery, and said simply of him, “He was a nice guy.”
Blaine dated Virginia Montgomery, Kenneth’s sister, “off and on for a while.”
The Montgomery family, which moved to Eden a short time before Kenneth left for military duty, lived on the corner of Church and Main streets in Eden.
They had moved from Illinois when his father, John P., was employed by the Chicago & North Western Railroad. When the senior Montgomery died, the family moved from the area. Later, Fond du Lac AMVETS Post 8 was named in Kenneth’s honor as the Kenneth Montgomery Chapter. The post apparently no longer exists.
Bill Blaine was younger than Montgomery and, in 1942, Blaine joined the Navy.
He said, “I was 17 and stayed in for 20 years.”
During those 20 years, he served on the USS Mexico in the South Pacific for 42 months. He also served two years of shore duty, served on an aircraft carrier and on other vessels. One day he went to work and didn’t come home for a time. On board a communications cruiser, he was part of the blockade of Cuba. He also spent six to seven months each on 13 trips to the Mediterranean before retiring and moving back to again reside on Main Street in Eden.
Blaine talked of a time when his mother had three stars in her window—one for each of the sons who went off to serve their country. Up the street, Mrs. Montgomery had one star in the window. Blaine said he wasn’t certain but thought that his mother’s stars were silver and Mrs. Montgomery had a gold star, symbolizing the son who had given his life for his country.
Unlike Blaine, Montgomery never returned to Eden. But, his country never forgot the young Marine who died in its service. And, it never gave up on the quest to bring his remains back to his native soil for a proper military burial with full honors.