Veterans Day brings host of family memories for Avalon man
Dale Kuhn jokes that he served twice in the military to make up for his oldest brother never joining.
Kuhn, 85, of Avalon is one of six brothers who served in various branches during World War II, making Veterans Day particularly meaningful for him.
“I'm proud of it,” Kuhn said last week, seated at his dining room table surrounded by black-and-white photographs of his large family.
The son of Frank and Cynthia Kuhn had seven siblings: brothers Ben, Lee, Merton, Glenn, Ray and Frank, and sister Cynthia May. The family lived in the North Side.
Today, Dale Kuhn is the only surviving sibling. Scrolling through the family Bible, whose first pages list births, deaths, and marriages, he reminisced about the brothers' experiences in World War II, which put thousands of miles between them.
Lee Kuhn was a celestial navigator in the Marines who participated in missions in the Asian and Pacific Theater to pick up equipment and wounded men. Lee was at the top of his class in training.
Merton Kuhn, who served for 13 years, was awarded the Air Medal for his skill as a bombardier against Japan — an honor that afforded him the chance to become a pilot. He was killed during a training exercise in Texas at age 30.
“Merton was a very daring man,” Kuhn recalls of his brother, seven years his senior. “He wasn't afraid of nothing.”
To describe the feeling around his house when the family lost Merton, Kuhn points to a faded article from the old Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph. It details three letters his mother received: one telling her about Merton's Air Medal, another telling her that Ray received the Purple Heart and the last informing her that Merton had died.
“Mrs. Kuhn sat quietly,” the article reads. “There were no tears in her eyes. There was only a slight catch in her voice, and the three papers shook as her hands trembled. This ironic blow falling so swiftly after happiness was the first the war has struck at Mr. and Mrs. Kuhn.”
Other Kuhn brothers experienced trauma. Glenn Kuhn, in the Army stationed in England, fought in the Battle of the Bulge toward the end of the war. The experience haunted him for life, his brother said.
“He had a rough time. At night, he would wake up and say, ‘They're on one side and the other side. We've got to do this and do that.' I guess that never gets out of your system.”
Twins Ray and Frank Kuhn served in the Army, the former stationed in Europe and the latter in the South Pacific. During a paratrooper mission over Italy, Ray jumped from his plane and took a bullet to his ankle. That earned him the Purple Heart and a lifetime of mobility problems.
“He never really did get better,” Dale Kuhn remembers. “He was never able to walk the right way.”
Dale Kuhn's own service began shortly after graduation from Perry High School in 1945 when the Navy drafted him. Yet when he arrived at Great Lakes Training Camp, officials told him his eyesight was too bad.
The military honorably discharged him on Sept. 9, 1945. He likes to joke that Japan surrendered days earlier because the Japanese knew he was coming.
In 1952, Kuhn was shocked when the Army drafted him. His eyes might not have been good enough for the Navy, but they would do for the Army. He was stationed in Germany for two years during the Korean War before being discharged in May 1954.
Because of the 20-year age difference between Kuhn and his oldest brother, he felt closer to his younger siblings growing up. He remembers watching double features with them at the movie theater, sled-riding in the street and eating his mom's vegetable soup.
After the war, the family remained scattered. Lee, Glenn and Frank settled on the West Coast. Ray stayed in Pittsburgh. Dale Kuhn doesn't remember the entire family gathering in the same room together again.
“I'd never see them more than three or four years apart,” he said.
When he did visit them individually, they talked mostly about their days growing up. War was not a popular topic.
“A lot (of veterans) don't tell their stories,” Kuhn said.
Kuhn worked for Bell Telephone Co., later Verizon, as a splicer and lineman for 36 years. He and his wife of 63 years, Barbara, had two children, six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Barbara died in June and is buried in the National Cemetery of the Alleghenies in Cecil.
Though his brothers died over the years — Lee lived to be the oldest, dying at age 94 in 2005 — Dale Kuhn keeps memories close by. He has a framed poster depicting photographs of each brother in uniform and several manila envelopes stuffed with family photos.
“We enjoyed each other's company,” he said with a smile. “We all got along.”
Rachel Weaver is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7948 or firstname.lastname@example.org.