KENNETH STANLEY BERGE
Branch: U. S. Army
Rank: Private First Class
Status: Killed in action
Date of Service: WWII
Home Town: Popple Township
Kenneth Berge’s marker in the Bagley City Cemetery
Kenneth Stanley Berge was born May 13, 1926 in Columbia Township, Polk County, Minnesota to Robert and Beda Melinda Berge. Robert had been born in Wisconsin and Beda in Sweden. The Berges moved to Popple Township in Clearwater County in 1939 to a farm along Highway 2. Kenneth’s siblings were brothers Olaf, Lawrence, Phillip and an adopted brother Einar, and sisters Ruth and Mildred.
Kenneth attended school at the District No. 5 School at Ebro Corner where he completed eighth grade, then attended Bagley High School for two years from 1942 – 1944. Along with his family he attended the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church.
Kenneth signed up for the draft on his 18th birthday on May 13, 1944. He was 5’10”, tall and slim at 140 pounds with brown eyes and brown hair. He was helping his father out on the farm.
September of that year found Kenneth in Fort Snelling where he enlisted in the Army for the duration of the war plus six months. He was single with no dependents. He was immediately sent to Camp Hood, Texas where he underwent basic training. After a short furlough in January of 1945, he left for Fort Ord, California. Fort Ord was the west coast replacement and training depot for established units. From there he was sent to the South Pacific where he joined the 382nd Infantry Regiment, 96th Infantry Division. The 96th was known as the “Deadeye” Division. The 96th was “resting” in the Philippines after it had taken part in the Battle of Leyte Gulf in the Philippines. The Division had entered combat with an assault landing in the Gulf near the end of October, 1944 and had seen heavy fighting as it advanced and secured the island by Christmas Day. The Division spent the next three months mopping up, doing security duty, training and loading for the coming invasion of Okinawa. The 96th left the Philippines for Okinawa on March 27, 1945 and made an assault landing on the island on April 1, 1945. The 96th had three infantry regiments – the 381st, the 382nd and the 383rd – and four artillery battalions. The total compliment of men was 14, 250 men.
The Japanese didn’t try to stop the 96th at the beach – they waited in prepared positions with interlocking fields of fire on ridgelines that ran across the island. They had the largest concentration of artillery, mortars and machine guns that had been encountered by any American force in the Pacific theater.
The Division advanced to Kakazu Ridge, where fighting was fierce. By the 10th of May they were attacking and capturing Conical-Sugar Hill Ridge and the enemy defense line at Tanabaru. The 96th’s participation in the battle ended on June 12 after 73 days of fighting. The last important Japanese defense position was secured by June 17 and on June 21 Major General Geiger declared Okinawa secure.
The battle for Okinawa had been long and bloody. The 96th Division suffered 7,294 casualties, which included 2,004 killed. Among those was Pfc. Kenneth Berge, who was killed in action on May 14th in the thick of the Conical-Sugar Hill Ridge fighting. He died one day after his 19th birthday.
Kenneth’s brother Olaf had joined the Marine Corps and was also in action on Okinawa at the time. They had not had the opportunity to meet, however, before Kenneth was killed. Olaf’s picture appeared in the Minneapolis Star a week after Kenneth was killed, showing him and a couple of his buddies bathing in a shell hole in Okinawa.
Pfc. Kenneth Berge was buried in the Bagley City Cemetery with an upright marble veteran’s headstone.