Brookline War Memorial
James E. McKenna

Korean War Memorial - Washington D.C.

Sgt. James E. McKenna
United States Army (1949-1950)

United States Army (1775-present)

James E. McKenna was born in April 19, 1931 to parents Mary W. and James F. McKenna. He had a brother, Edward, and a sister, Marianne. The McKenna family were members of the Church of the Resurrection and lived at 1230 Bellaire Place in East Brookline.

An active participant in Scouting in Brookline, James was the first member of Resurrection's Troop #6 to reach the rank of Eagle Scout. He was also a member of Explorer Scout Post #706, the Order of the Arrow, the Holy Name Society and the Men's Choir at Resurrection.

James McKenna

A graduate of Resurrection Elementary School, at age eighteen James enlisted in the Army on June 24, 1949, less than a week after graduating from South Hills High School, where he was a member of the track team. After boot camp he was assigned to the intelligence unit of the Headquarters Service Company, 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion of the 2nd Infantry Division, then based at Fort Lewis in Tacoma, Washington.

As a member of the Headquarters Service Company, Private McKenna's duties were in the area of supervising map creation for the various battalion assignments, which included Arctic air transportability, amphibious, and maneuver training. With the outbreak of hostilities in Korea during the summer of 1950, the 2nd Infantry Division was quickly alerted for movement to the Far East Command where it would join the U.S. Eighth Army.

                 

Private James McKenna arrived in Korea, disembarking at Pusan, on July 23. The 2nd Division became the first to reach Korea directly from the United States. The Division was initially employed piecemeal during the desperate struggle along the Pusan Perimeter. The entire Division was committed as an intact unit on August 24, relieving the 24th Infantry Division at the Naktong River Line.

The first big test came when the North Koreans struck in a desperate human wave attack on the night of August 31. During the sixteen day battle that followed, known as the Great Naktong Offensive, the Division's clerks, bandsmen, technical and supply personnel all joined in the fight to defend against the attackers. The Naktong Offensive was one of the most brutal fights of the Korean War.

Shortly after General MacArther's successful landing at Inchon, on September 15, forced the hasty withrawal of the North Korean Army in the south, the 2nd Infantry Division was the first unit to break out of the Pusan Perimeter. They led the Eighth Army drive up the west coast of the peninsula, all the way to the Manchurian border.

2nd Combat Engineer Battalion in Korea    2nd Combat Engineer Battalion in Korea

During this advance, the 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion busied itself with mine clearing details, road and bridge building projects and any other logistical exercises necessary to keep the 2nd Division moving forward in pursuit of the retreating North Korean Army. Having recently been promoted, Corporal James McKenna of the HQ Company kept busy supervising the creation and distribution of maps for the United Nations forces.

The Eighth Army was nearing the Yalu River and the Manchurian border in the Western part of Korea when the Chinese entered the fight. The initial Chinese offensive lasted from October 25 to November 4. The People's Volunteer Army (PVA) destroyed the right flank of the Eighth Army and forced the U.N. units to retreat back to the Ch'ongch'on River.

After these initial successes, the Chinese then withdrew their forces due to logistical difficulties. General MacArthur, misled by the Chinese retreat, launched another offensive push towards the Yalu River. The 2nd Division advanced to within fifty miles of the Yalu River when Chinese forces attacked again, this time with a force of nearly 500,000 soldiers.

Battle of the Chongcon River

The Battle of Ch'ongch'on River began on November 25, The Chinese juggernaut rolled over the front line defenses. The 2nd Division began a hurried withdrawal back towards the village of Kunu-Ri along the Ch'ongch'on River. The 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion was ordered to set up a defensive position and hold the village to protect the rear and right flank of the Eighth Army as it retired to the south.

Companies from the Battalion were attached to two Infantry Regiments, the 9th and 38th, to fill gaps in the defending lines. The lines eventually gave way to brutal assaults by three Chinese divisions. By November 26, after three days of heavy fighting, the three enemy divisions had grown to five, with more on the way.

Battle of the Chongcon River

On November 29, the 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion received orders to relocate south to Sunchon, but the Chinese had blocked the only escape route south at a mountain pass. The Battalion moved forward to clear a path through the obstacle and open the road. Once the road was cleared, the battalion was told to hold the line with the 23rd Infantry Regiment and Battery A of the 503rd Field Artillery.

Early on November 30, the massive 2nd Infantry Division convoy began to slowly make its way across the mountain pass through a six-mile gauntlet of Chinese sniper and mortar fire. Within hours the situation turned from bad to worse as swarms of Chinese troops engulfed the retreating column.

The 2nd Engineer Battalion was the only unit left to oppose the massive Chinese assault. The engineers successfully held off the enemy long enough for the remainder of the 2nd Infantry Division to evacuate through the pass. While running the gauntlet, the 23rd Infantry Regiment fired off its entire stock of 3,206 artillery shells within twenty minutes, a massive barrage that prevented Chinese troops from following the regiment.

...
Combat Engineers from the 2nd Battalion fighting off Chinese attacks during the Battle of Ch'ongch'on River.

Unfortunately, by this time the engineers’ window of opportunity to escape had closed. At 7:30pm on November 30, Colonel Alarich Zacherle, Battalion Commander, ordered all equipment destroyed. Magnesium grenades were dropped on heavy equipment tracks and engines. Tires were filled with gasoline, thrown inside vehicles and set ablaze.

Zacherle then ordered the Battalion Colors, its custom-made box, and the twenty-five combat streamers that adorned it soaked in gasoline and set on fire. He wanted to prevent the Chinese from capturing it as a war trophy. "Burning the colors and getting the hell out of there," according to Colonel Zacherle, were the only two things on the minds of everyone present.

About thirty minutes after Zacherle gave the order to burn the colors, the Chinese forces overran the engineers. Very few escaped. When the 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion regrouped after the battle, just 266 of the original 977 men remained. Only one officer was present; all others had been killed or captured. Missing in action after the November 30 engagement was nineteen-year old Corporal James E. McKenna.

...
The 2nd Engineer Battalion burns its colors on November 30, 1950 near Kunu-Ri in North Korea.

News of James McKenna's uncertain fate reached his family in Brookline shortly around Christmas time. Ironically, it came only days after his last letter home arrived, which was dated November 28, 1950. The Pittsburgh Press listed James McKenna as Missing in Action on January 7, 1951.

While the McKennas and their friends hoped for the best, that possibly James was being held prisoner, back on the Korean Peninsula the Chinese PVA pushed the Eighth Army all the way into South Korea and recaptured the South Korean capital city of Seoul. From there, the U.N. retreat ended and the Allies struck back. They liberated Seoul for a second time and advanced to the 38th Parallel, where the front stabilized.

The 2nd Infantry Division and the 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion continued to slug it out with the Chinese PVA for another two years, participating in the battles at both Bloody and Heartbreak Ridges. After the Korean Armistice Agreement was signed on June 27, 1953, the Division spent another year in country before being redeployed to the United States in 1954.

Back in Brookline, hope turned to sadness in the McKenna home at 1230 Bellaire Place when, in March 1954, James was declared dead by the Defense Department. While he was missing, the Army saw fit to promote Corporal McKenna to the rank of Sergeant. A memorial service was held for Sgt. James E. McKenna on Saturday, March 6, 1954, at Resurrection Church.

A year and a half later, on September 21, 1955, the Pittsburgh Press printed an official death notice after James' body had been returned to the United States. A three-day memorial service was held at DeBor Funeral Home, followed by Requiem Mass at Resurrection Church on Saturday September 24. James E. McKenna is buried in Saint Michaels Cemetery.

* Written by Clint Burton: May 12, 2018 *




The Brookline War Memorial

The Brookline Veteran's Memorial.

Listed below are many of the sons of Brookline who gave their
lives to preserve freedom and contain aggression during
World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

“It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died.
Rather, we should thank God that such men lived.”
General George S. Patton
 

United States Army (1775-present)  United States Army Air Services (1917-1947)  United States Navy (1775-present)  United States Marine Corps (1775-present)
United States Coast Guards (1790-present)  United States Air Force (1947-present)  United States Merchant Marine (1775-present)

World War I (1917-1919)

Percy Digby

Digby, David P.
Mayville Avenue
Army

Details

Raymond P. Cronin

Cronin, Raymond P.
Berkshire Avenue
USMC

Details

Charles Luppe

Luppe, Charles
Ferncliffe Avenue
Army

Details

WW1 Memorial - Washington D.C.
The World War I Memorial - Washington D.C.

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World War II (1941-1945)


Alm William H.
Pioneer Avenue
Army

Details


Arensberg, Roy T.
Fernhill Avenue
Army

Details


Brickley, Edward G.
Woodward Avenue
Army

Details


Bruni, Lawrence A.
Berkshire Avenue
Army

Details


Capogreca, James J.
Merrick Avenue
Navy

Details


Copeland, Clarence R.
Creedmoor Avenue
Navy

Details


Cullison, Thomas J.
Birtley Avenue
Army

Details


Dempsey, Howard F.
Berkshire Avenue
Army

Details


Dempsey, Walter F.
Milan Avenue
Navy

Details


Diegelman, Edward R. Jr
Norwich Avenue
Army

Details


Dornetto, Frank P.
Jacob Street
Navy

Details


Fagan, Gerald B.
Woodbourne Avenue
Army

Details


Falk, Harold E.
Pioneer Avenue
Army

Details


Fehring, Robert M.
Fernhill Avenue
Army

Details


Hynes, Richard E.
Waddington Avenue
Army

Details


Jackson, Robert E.
Brookline
Army

 


Kestler, Paul C.
Creedmoor Avenue
Navy

Details


Ketters, Robert C.
Berkshire Avenue
Army

Details


Mahoney, Michael J.
Oakridge Street
Army

Details


Majestic, Arthur B.
Starkamp Avenue
Army

Details


Mayberry, Alexander G.
Breining Street
Army

Details


Mazza, John
Alwyn Street
Army

Details


McCann, Robert F.
Edgebrook Avenue
Navy

Details


McFarland, Hugh R.
McNeilly Road
Army

Details


Miller, William J.
Norwich Avenue
Army

Details


Napier, Edward J.
Brookline Boulevard
Army

Details


Nicholson, John D.
Woodbourne Avenue
Army

Details


O'Day, John R.
Creedmoor Avenue
Navy

Details


Orient, Andrew D.
Fordham Avenue
Army

Details


Pisiecki, Raymond A.
Wolford Avenue
Army

Details


Reeves, Alfred M.
Brookline Boulevard
Army

Details


Reitmeyer, John P.
Bellaire Avenue
Navy

Details


Rhing, Vern M.
Norwich Avenue
Army

Details


Shannon, Harry C.
Midland Street
Army

Details


Shannon, Jack E.
Midland Street
USMC

Details


Simpson, James D.
Woodbourne Avenue
Army

Details


Spack, Harry
Linial Avenue
Army

Details


Vierling, Howard F.
Fordham Avenue
Army

Details


Wagner, Ralph G.
Shawhan Avenue
Army

Details


Wentz, Walter L. Jr
Woodbourne Avenue
Army

Details


Zeiler, Harold V.
West Liberty Avenue
Army

Details

WW2 Memorial - Washington D.C.
The World War II Memorial - Washington D.C.

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Korean War (1950-1953)

Patrick Gallagher

Gallagher, Patrick J.
Bodkin Street
Army

Details

James Gormley

Gormley, James W.
Brookline Boulevard
Army

Details

Gerald Hilliard

Hilliard, Gerald G.
Edgebrook Avenue
Army

Details

James McKenna

McKenna, James E.
Bellaire Place
Army

Details

Korean War Memorial - Washington D.C.
Korean War Memorial - Washington D.C.

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Vietnam War (1965-1973)

James Robert Bodish

Bodish, James R.
Plainview Avenue
Army

Virtual Wall
Additional Details

James Gilbert Collins

Collins, James G.
Dunster Street
Army

Virtual Wall
Additional Details

James Charles Wonn

Wonn, James C.
Mayville Avenue
Navy

Virtual Wall
Additional Details

Vietnam War Memorial - Washington D.C.
Vietnam War Memorial - Washington D.C.




The Brookline Monument - The Cannon

Brookline Veteran's Park - April 26, 2014.

<Brookline War Memorial> <> <Brookline History>