KCK family shares father's brave story of service on the USS Yorktown

KANSAS CITY, Kan. - Tom Brokaw dubbed them The Greatest Generation, and for good reason. 

The men and women who lived through World War II showed strength, bravery and heroism.  Unfortunately, a few more slip away from us each day, leaving us only their stories. 

In the case of Kenneth T. Roady, his story included a surprise ending.

Ken Roady left behind quite a legacy when he died two months ago at the age of 88.  He was a father of six, a Navy veteran and an all around hard-working man from Kansas City, Kan.

"He always taught me, you go to work, work your tail off every day, earn your dollar," said Mike Roady, Ken's eldest son.  "And when you get your paycheck, look your boss in the eye and let him know that you deserve every penny that you're getting, and you should be getting more."

Mike says he and his siblings were always fascinated with their father's military service. 

Ken enlisted on July 14th, 1941 at the age of 18.  He was a gunner on the USS Yorktown in the South Pacific. 

By the time he turned 19, Ken would find himself in the middle of one of the war's most contentious battles.

"We'd see movies on TV and he'd talk about the Yorktown.  Never get real into it or describing anything," said Mike.

Over the years Ken would share more.  The most revealing: A recount of the Battle of Midway captured on videotape and now a family keepsake.  On the home video, Ken described what he endured that day.

"And I mean to tell you, that time, they let the bombers come first," he said.  "The torpedo planes came later.  I guess they learned something in the Coral Sea about it. They had sent the torpedo planes first in the Coral Sea and everything looked bare."

"He was on his gun station," Mike added, filling in the details.  "He manned a 50 caliber machine gun right up by the bridge."

Back to Ken and the video:  "I heard that speaker, down there in the Captain's thing, sounded like a Jap, 'Yorktown!  Yorktown!'  And then all of a sudden I looked and saw, eeeeeee, here they come with my eyes."

Ken proceeded to return fire with all he had, even as the Japanese hit and ultimately crippled the USS Yorktown.

"He didn't know that they had given the abandon ship command," Mike said.  "Finally Captain Buckmaster came through making his last rounds and found my dad at his station and said 'Boy, what are you doing here?'"

Ken continues the story on the video:  "'Didn't you hear abandon ship?' No sir."

He did as ordered, becoming one of the last men off the Yorktown.  Ken explained how he first stopped to help an injured shipmate.

"I looked down at him and he said, 'Will you help me?' And I said 'Yeah.'  And I fished him out of there. His legs were all shot to hell.'"

Ken saved two men that day – pulling them to lifeboats in the water.  A U.S. destroyer would eventually pluck him from the water.  He went on to serve five more years and was honorably discharged in 1947. 

But Mike and his family always wondered: "I asked him 'Did you ever get any medals?'  And he always denied that he had any medals coming to him."

Ken Roady died on March 20 of this year.  The next day, Mike was going through his father's papers.  He came across Ken's DD214 form, the military's certificate of release from active duty.

"I said 'I knew it!  I knew it!  You lying son of a gun.'  I think that's exactly my quote," Mike said laughing.

Right there, in black and white, kept secret for 70 years - Mike's dad was a hero after all.

"I looked at the back and it showed four commendations that he had received," Mike said.  "And he had never made mention of it or talked about it a bit."

His family chalks it up to their dad's humility.  They believe Ken might have even felt he failed that day because of the number of casualties and the fact the Yorktown sank.

Ken's closing remarks on the family's video show just how serious he viewed that day:  "Every time I think about those guys...that was the hardest walk I ever made."

"Like I say, he didn't look at himself as anybody special," Mike explained. "He didn't look that he had done anything special. He just did what he was supposed to do. That's what he always taught us. Do what you're supposed to do."

The United States lost 340 men, the USS Yorktown, a destroyer and 145 aircraft in the Battle of Midway. It was a huge loss, but also a turning point. Japan lost more than 3,000 men, four aircraft carriers, a heavy cruiser and 228 aircraft. 

That battle severely crippled Japanese forces giving America the upper hand. By August, 10,000 U.S. soldiers would land on Guadalcanal, launching a counter offensive that didn't stop until Japan's surrender three years later.

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