KENNETH W MOKUAU - LCPL
- DATE OF BIRTH:
- August 19, 1948
- DATE OF CASUALTY:
- January 22, 1969
- BRANCH OF SERVICE:
- South Vietnam
Kenneth W. Mokuau, Jr. was born on August 19, 1948. His home of record is Wenonah, NJ.
He served in the US Marine Corps and attained the rank of Lance Corporal (LCPL).
Mokuau was killed in action on January 22, 1969.
August 19, 1948-January 22, 1969
LCPL, Marines Wenonah, NJ
He was six feet tall, had dark hair, and was well built. His dark complexion revealed his Hawaiian heritage, but even he was in for a surprise when he dove into the surf at Atlantic City.
"It was his first encounter with the ocean," his father, Kenneth Mokuau, Sr., now living in Logan, Utah, says. "He came running back to tell his mother that someone put salt in the water."
Kenneth, Sr. and Margaret Mokuau raised five children, three girls and two boys in the Pine Acres section of Wenonah, NJ. They were a typically happy family of the fifties and sixties. Times were relatively care-free, and Kenny seemed to be the one who could, at will, make anyone laugh.
His sister, Marie, still living in Pine Acres says, "He was my brother and my friend. The girls loved him because he had eyes that danced like a thousand stars when he smiled."
"Being two years younger than Kenny, I took the public bus with him back and forth to Glassboro, where we attended Saint Bridget's School," remembers Marie. "It gave us time to go over homework and just be together, whether he wanted to hang around with me or not. I missed him when he went on to high school, but he more or less paved the way for me. By the time I got to Deptford High, anyone who heard my last name knew Kenny was my brother. They really respected him."
"Kenny had some friends from Philadelphia," adds another sister, Pam. "He made friends easily. He was in a motorcycle club, and they used our yard as a workshop. He also played football for the Deptford Midgets and then in high school."
Ken's passion for motorcycles has become a family legend. With their father, he and his older brother, Herman, now living in Bridgeton, NJ, worked on cars and motorcycles incessantly. Herman remembers a time when the two were too young to have driver's licenses.
"Our father had a '49 Ford that he let us drive around the back yard," he says. "We turned the yard into a racetrack. We went around a tree, and along side our neighbor's house, and then across third base of our makeshift ball field."
Ken was an industrious youth. He had both a Woodbury Times and a Philadelphia Bulletin paper route with a total of about three hundred customers, and he also started a unique venture along Route 45, just south of Woodbury.
"He sold crabs that he had bought from vendors traveling to Philadelphia," his father says. "He willingly shared his earnings with his brother and sisters, especially when they helped him."
Marie agrees, then adds, "Ken was a real hustler. Route 45 was just a two-lane highway, and Oak Valley was nothing but trees. But there he was, selling his blue claw crabs. Every Friday, he would take his money to the 'bank', who was our grandmother. But he would also try to make withdrawals. She wouldn't let him most of the time."
"Ken was lean and mean," recalls Herman, "but with a heart of gold. He would help anyone at any time."
According to his father, Kenny was a good student and attended school regularly. But his love of anything automotive prompted his decision to leave school.
"He wasn't the brightest, but his report cards were always good," Kenneth, Sr. says. "He loved his motorcycle and had a great interest in auto motors, but after leaving school to work in a shop, he found it required a vast knowledge of mathematics. So, he returned to school and graduated."
After commencement at Deptford High in June of 1967, Ken landed a job at Swedesboro Auto Body. He and his father built 'choppers' from stock motorcycles in his free time.
One day in the fall of 1967, Ken came home excited about the Marine Corps. He had just returned from the recruiter and announced his intention of enlisting.
"I explained to him that the Corps is a demanding branch of service," Ken, Sr. says. "Upon acceptance, a recruit is well prepared for any assignment."
Pam adds, "Mom was upset, but not that he was going to join the Marines. It was because he was all greasy and dirty from working on his motorcycle and hadn't cleaned up before he went."
"I'm not really sure what made him enlist in the Marines," recalls Marie. "Time seemed to move so quickly after that. Before I knew it, he was heading for boot camp."
Ken entered the Marine Corps on October 6, 1967. After recruit training at Parris Island, SC, he was sent to Combat Engineering School at Camp LeJuene, NC, for training as an explosives specialist. He became an expert at diffusing land mines and booby-traps. By April of 1968, he was on his way to Vietnam.
"Ken seemed to like the Marines," Herman says. "His letters reflected that. He did not say really how he felt, but he didn't do what he didn't want to do."
Company C, 1st Engineer Battalion, 1st Marine Division became Ken's first home in Vietnam until June when he was transferred to Headquarters and Service Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, 9th Marine Amphibious Brigade which operated in Quang Nam Province in northern South Vietnam.
"Kenny wrote home every chance he could," says Marie. "And he called whenever possible, no matter what time it was here. We were thankful and looked forward to hearing from him and disappointed if one of us missed the call."
"When he went to Vietnam," she continues, "he would ask that we make extra large 'care packages' so there would be enough for everyone. He would send us the names of friends who received little or no mail and asked if Pam and I would have some of our girlfriends write or send them cards, so they would know someone back home cared."
On July 29, 1968, while on an operation called "Swift Play/Allen Brook", Ken suffered shrapnel wounds to both arms and chest from what the Marine Corps called an "enemy surprise firing device," which means he was trying to disable a booby-trap. He, and two others who were also wounded, spent the next two weeks in the hospital at Da Nang before returning to his unit for more mine-clearing operations.
In September, Ken was promoted to Lance Corporal, and, in January of 1969, he was transferred back to his original unit, Company C of the 1st Engineer Battalion.
On January 22nd, Ken was part of a land mine clearance team that, when returning from a successful sweep, was ambushed by heavy enemy machine gun fire. Ken was killed instantly. The company commander, Captain E. C. Hein, stated in a letter to the Mokuaus dated January 25th, that:
Kenneth was a fine man and an outstanding Marine. His exemplary conduct and singular determination to do every job well were qualities that all of us respected.
Kenneth W. Mokuau, Jr., was buried on February 3, 1969, at Saint Bridget's Cemetery in Glassboro after a Requiem High Mass at the Church of the Incarnation in Mantua.
Marie has drawn strength from a letter she received from her brother. "The letter always stayed in my heart," she says. "He wrote that he could see and understand the reason that he was there. So when the family was notified that Kenny was killed in action, I blocked everything and everyone out and thought of his letter. I read it over and over again. I don't believe I ever shared this letter with anyone."
"When I visit the cemetery or look up to the sky beyond the clouds to heaven," Marie continues, "I know he is at home with the Lord, who called him so early in his life. Mom always said that when the Lord says it's your time, then it's your time, no matter what or where you are. I think of my brother's letter because it has always brought me comfort to know that he knew the reason he gave his life."
Marie concludes, "He will live forever in the hearts of his family and friends who, after all this time and whenever his name is mentioned, will remember his love for motorcycles, the smile on his face, and the easy-going, caring person he was. He would have broken many a girl's heart, if it hadn't been his time to go home."
"Whenever I hear Kenny's name," says Pam. "I think of love, joy, happiness, his laughter, and, most of all, his smile. I remember him when I look into the eyes of my nephew, Richard, and at the smile of my daughter, Tina Marie. And I remember the love we shared from our parents and "Darling", our grandmother."
Margaret Mokuau passed away in June of 1985. She took with her the grief and pain of losing a son, but left a proud and caring family.
Kenneth, Sr., now says, "Kenny's death affected us in many ways and for many years after. I'll never regret his choice to serve his country, and I would like for his family, friends, and neighbors to remember him as someone who loved his family, God, and country. He was grateful for the opportunity to serve."
Herman Mokuau, himself a decorated Vietnam veteran, regrets the treatment received by veterans when they returned, especially after witnessing the parades and celebration after Desert Storm in 1991. But of his little brother, there is an image that comes to his mind's eye that he will never forget.
"The loss of my brother was hard to take," he says. "But I'll always picture him riding that Harley, with the sun in his face and the wind at his back."
Excerpt from They Were Ours: Gloucester County's Loss in Vietnam
by John Campbell
Used with permission of author
Sources: John Campbell and NJVVMF.
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