WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – A Wichita State Alum and member of the Greatest Generation recently celebrated his 100th birthday.
He’s seen so much in 10 decades and that includes what it was like to be drafted to World War II.
Ken Rupe says he was eager to go, since all of his friends were already overseas, following Pearl Harbor.
He said a nurse, in his unit, did an amazing job of documenting all they endured.
“That’s the very first picture that I remember,” WWII Veteran Ken Rupe said.
Rupe said after basic, and more training, he will never forget the ship that took the young soldiers overseas.
“It was a great big ship, and I was a land person,” Rupe said. “I hadn’t seen a big ship like that before!”
He said it was an old cruise ship.
“Well, first class, I say, there were 6,000 of us on there,” Rupe said.
He said their journey was dicey since the Mediterranean was still loaded with German submarines.
“We had to dodge them, going all the way over to Bizerk,” Rupe said.
Once they finally arrived, they slept in pop up tents in the middle of a camel pasture.
He said hey were waiting on the invasion of Italy.
“I felt proud that I was part of the military, during the war,” Rupe said.
He remembered when the sky was black, full of B-17s, flying in perfect formation.
“Coming back there were a lot of them that had been shot up and they were straggling,” Rupe said.
He said he almost saw combat since he was headed to the infantry, that was until they discovered he had some handy skills.
“There weren’t too many people who knew shorthand, so I was able to get into a good assignment,” Rupe said.
He was in hospital administration.
“I wasn’t any hero, but I sure helped those who were,” Rupe said.
The 300th was known as the Vanderbilt Unit since so many who were part of it were graduates of the university, even the man at the helm.
“He was a good commanding officer,” Rupe said.
The unit served in Naples, Italy.
“The hospital had a big red cross up on the roof, and so the Germans, they respected that,” Rupe said.
They ran a 3,000 bed facility.
“There were many of them that had lost limbs, and chest surgery and that kind of thing,” Rupe said. “We did the best we could, but as soon as we got them where they were able they came back to the states.”
Rupe said the hospital was dangerously close to a port.
“Sometimes, when they would come in to bomb the port, they would release the bombs a little too soon,” Rupe said.
Those bombs left big craters, very close to the facility.
When Germany surrendered, Rupe says he was in a group of about 50, that was headed to Japan.
“Then they dropped the bomb, and that changed that,” Rupe said.
He said they were prepared for much worse if they were forced to invade Japan.
“War is devastating,” Rupe said.
Rupe said he is proud to have been part of the 300th operation and is so thankful he and his brother, another member of the Greatest Generation, made it home safely.
“I was lucky to be back home,” Rupe said.
Once Rupe returned, he finished his education at Wichita State University and is a proud member of the Alum network.
He went on to work, for what would become Koch Industries, where he was an accountant for more than three decades.
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