ARLINGTON, Va. (AFNS) —
On his strategy to changing into one of many U.S. Air Power’s most legendary—in addition to brave and inspirational—Airmen, CMSgt (retired) Paul Kerchum, who died Dec. 17 at age 102, traveled some surprising and tough roads.
Now in loss of life, Kerchum’s distinguished document and contributions to the Air Power and the nation are coming into focus as soon as once more.
Along with his lengthy active-duty service, first within the Army after enlisting in 1938, then a further 21 years following World Struggle II within the newly born U.S. Air Power, Kerchum additionally claimed notoriety as a POW and one of many final—if not the final—survivors of the ugly Bataan Dying March throughout World Struggle II.
Whereas Kerchum served a long time in the past and survived the tortuous march in 1942 alongside the Philippines largest island and as a prisoner of battle during which he endured harsh and merciless circumstances, his instance resonates in the present day and is value following, Air Power senior leaders say. It’s the cause Kerchum was laid to relaxation Jan. 25 (which coincides along with his 103rd birthday) in Southern Arizona Veterans Memorial Cemetery with full army honors following a funeral mass in Benson, Ariz.
“The therapy of those that endured the Bataan Dying March is one thing we will by no means let fade from our recollections,” stated Chief Grasp Sgt. of the Air Power JoAnne S. Bass. “Nonetheless, for Chief Kerchum to take that ache and rework it right into a lifetime of service and dedication to our nation is unimaginable and downright inspiring. Chief Kerchum was, and can all the time be, remembered as an American hero.”
The solemn ceremony mirrored the non-public story of a heroic Airman who fought in World Struggle II and contributed to the Air Power’s early days in methods which can be nonetheless related.
Kerchum’s experiences, senior leaders say, proceed to tell instruction for how you can endure being a prisoner of battle. His self-admitted uneven conduct after the battle provides depth to the understanding of what turned often called post-traumatic stress dysfunction (PTSD).
Kerchum additionally displays a distinguished, however dwindling, inhabitants whose tales and affect proceed to be felt in in the present day’s Air Power. The group consists of Lt. Dick Cole who died in 2019 at 103 years previous and who was Jimmy Doolittle’s co-pilot on the daring bombing raid on Japan in 1942.
Like Cole and Doolittle together with others, Kerchum is greatest identified for his conduct throughout World Struggle II. Foremost is his efficiency within the battle within the Philippines that waged for 93 days regardless that his unit, B Firm, thirty first Infantry, and supporting items have been outnumbered and outgunned.
As Kerchum recounts in an oral historical past, they finally have been ordered to give up.
“Whereas combating, we have been on lower than half rations and with out of date weapons,” he stated. “Then that which adopted turned, because the Bataan Dying March, a pressured march … from Mariveles to the San Fernando Railhead. Males have been shot, bayonetted, beheaded and overwhelmed on that sizzling, dusty street. When the give up occurred, the boys have been already affected by dysentery, malaria, malnutrition and different ailments.”
Kerchum and roughly 75,000 different Filipino and American troops have been force-marched 65 miles in six days, with just one meal of rice throughout your complete journey. An estimated 17,000 died.
But the toughness and resiliency he exhibited in the course of the march weren’t stunning.
Born in Ohio and raised in a foster house in Pittsburgh as a toddler of the Melancholy, Kerchum and his pal determined in 1938 that becoming a member of the Navy would permit them to go away their hardscrabble lives. As Kerchum recounts in his oral historical past, “The very first thing the recruiting agent requested, ‘Do you gents have highschool diplomas?’ We stated, ‘No.’ He stated, ‘Go throughout the corridor, they may take anyone.’”
That brief journey led to an active-duty historical past greater than three a long time lengthy. Along with serving within the Philippines throughout World Struggle II, Kerchum served after the battle at Air Power bases in Japan amongst different international locations in addition to at a number of bases in america, together with Tyndall Air Power Base and Elmendorf Air Power Base.
He was promoted to chief grasp sergeant in 1963 and retired Aug. 1, 1966. In all, Kerchum claimed 29 years of service, break up amongst eight years within the infantry and 21 years within the Air Power. Alongside the best way, he collected two American Presidential Unit Citations, a Purple Coronary heart, Air Power Commendation Medal, and the Philippine Presidential Medal with Quotation, amongst others.
He and his spouse Gloria retired to Arizona, however Kerchum didn’t reduce his ties to the Air Power or to service. He devoted quite a few hours to neighborhood service and public talking.
Kerchum summarized his method in his oral historical past in a reference that captured his method to most different endeavors all through his life.
“Sooner or later my sister-in-law, Edna, referred to as me from Ogden, Utah, and stated her husband’s World Struggle II group was having a reunion and wanted a visitor speaker. I requested ‘how a lot is the stipend?’ She stated, ‘A free dinner.’ I informed her, ‘Activate the sunshine, I’m on my approach’,” he stated.