Kenneth Lee Worley ........ A Study in Valor
by Betty Lou Gaeng
A young man came home from war. No one from his family was there to greet him. As he had been during so much of his short lifetime, he was alone. There was neither parade nor welcome from his countrymen. Like so many of our young servicemen and women returning from the horrors of the Vietnam War, Kenneth Lee Worley, Lance Corporal United States Marines, was considered unimportant by many. A spokesperson at one cemetery said there was no room for him. He rests in another: at Westminster Memorial Park, Westminster, Orange County, California, where a caring family, strangers with connections to the cemetery, donated a plot for him. He was buried there on Saturday, August 24, 1968.
A government-issue gravestone identifies Kenneth Worley’s burial place. However, this gravestone carries a rarely seen message. It shows that he had been awarded the Medal of Honor, the highest military award this country bestows. Twenty-year old Kenneth Lee Worley was a very special young Marine. He was also an enigma—one whose birth family remains a mystery, and whose deprivations as a youth will never be fully known.
Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia, has this to say about Kenneth Worley: “Kenneth L. Worley was a United States Marine who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for heroism in Vietnam. On August 12, 1968, Worley sacrificed his own life when he threw himself on a grenade to save the lives of several fellow Marines.” (1)
Darilee Bednar, the Bookstore Lady of Marysville, Washington, first brought Kenneth Worley to my attention. On her Vietnam website Faces From The Wall Darilee provides information regarding Medal of Honor recipient Kenneth L. Worley. His panel on the Vietnam Wall in Washington, D.C. is identified as 48West-01.
Later, I found a front-page article in The Tribune-Review of Edmonds, Washington, dated Wednesday, April 22, 1970. The newspaper reported “Ceremonies at White House, MEDAL OF HONOR CITES GALLANTRY IN VIETNAM.” The article stated “The presentation was made n a ceremonies Monday at the White House in Washington, D.C. to Mr. and Mrs. Donald Feyerherm of 7016 196th Street, Edmonds, for their foster son Marine Corps Lance Corps Kenneth L. Worley, who was killed in Vietnam.”
At that ceremony in the White House, Spiro Agnew, Vice President of the United States, spoke the words “He gallantly gave his life for his country.” Acting on behalf of President Richard Nixon, Vice President Agnew then posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor to Lance Corporal Kenneth Lee Worley, United States Marine Corps. Present for the ceremony and accepting the award were Cpl. Worley’s friends, Donald and Rosemary Feyerherm and their eight children. Kenneth made his home with the Feyerherm family in Modesto, California before he enlisted in the service. Since Kenneth seemed to have no contact with his birth family, he had listed Donald Feyerherm as the person to contact in case of his death.
The Citation accompanying the Medal of Honor tells the story of a brave young man’s sacrifice to save his comrades.
The President of the United States in the name of Congress takes pride in presenting the MEDAL OF HONOR posthumously to
In a split second, with imminent danger looming, what influences one person to turn away and run from the danger, and another to throw himself forward and at the cost of his own life, save the lives of those nearby? What is that special quality that inspires heroism? Whatever that quality, Cpl. Worley had it—he didn’t run away—he sacrificed himself for his comrades. A North Dakota State University psychologist writing about heroism has researched numerous recipients of the Medal of Honor. Kenneth Worley’s hardscrabble life and his fatal act of bravery will be featured in this study.
In Edmonds, in front of the old Carnegie Library Building, now the Edmonds Historical Museum, stands a seven-foot tall granite memorial monument dedicated to 79 young men of Alderwood Manor, Lynnwood, Edmonds, Mountlake Terrace, Brier, Meadowdale, Woodway and all the surrounding area known as Edmonds School District 15. These are young men who sacrificed their lives for their country during times of war. Among the names engraved in the section for the Vietnam War is that of Kenneth Worley, MOH [Medal of Honor].
Last year as I began the task of compiling a history of the memorial monument and information on each of the young men listed, I soon found the Kenneth Worley story unfolding.
At first I was puzzled by what seemed to be Kenneth Worley’s lack of connection to this area. Nothing indicated that he ever set foot in Edmonds or nearby. However, I soon learned from the 1970 story in the Tribune-Review that the Feyerherm family was living in Edmonds. They were the closest to a family that Kenneth Worley had. The family had moved to Edmonds from Long Beach, California sometime after Kenneth’s death. A listing in an Edmonds City Directory verified Edmonds as their home at the time of the 1970 awards ceremony. Since the discovery of the awards ceremony story, much more information has come to light, including the fact that Donald Feyerherm’s mother had also been an Edmonds resident.
The most reliable source for information on Kenneth Worley’s personal background is the United States Marine Corps, History Division, Who’s Who in Marine Corps History. This record shows that he was born in Farmington, San Juan County, New Mexico. He completed Farmington Elementary School in 1962, and then attended Hot Springs High School in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico for two years.
These are only the basic facts—the remainder of his personal life until he entered Marine Corps service has become mired with speculation and hearsay. One story suggests that possibly he was born to a disadvantaged family. If so, his father may have been a farm laborer. At times Kenneth Worley has been referred to as an orphan and at other times it has been said that his mother died when he was young, his father remarried, and there was no longer room for him.
During the days of Ken’s birth and young years, Farmington, first known as Farmingtown, was not a prosperous town; rather, as the name implied, it was an area of farms and apple orchards. In earlier days there was a shortage of homes for the workers. The oil and natural gas producing wells, now prominent in the area, and the companies such as El Paso Gas and Halliburton would come later.
One story has it that Kenneth left home at 14, and moved to Truth or Consquences, New Mexico where, as shown in the Marine Corps records, he completed two years of high school. At the age of 16 he was living in Modesto, California. There his home was a small rundown camping trailer without electricity, running water or heat. At 17, he was driving a truck hauling Christmas trees from the mountains. He hurt his foot and, while it was in a cast, he met Quonieta Archer, the Feyerherm’s eldest daughter. After dating for about a month, he was befriended by his girl friend’s family and then went to live in their home. A member of the family said that Mr. Feyerherm took Kenneth under his wing and found a job for him working at a gas station.
As reported in Who’s Who in Marine Corps History, Kenneth Worley enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in Fresno, California on June 14, 1967. He received recruit training with the 3rd Recruit Training Battalion, Recruit Training Regiment, Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego, California. Upon completion of his training in August of 1967, he was transferred to the Marine Corps Base at Camp Pendleton, California and then underwent individual combat training with Company R, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry Training Regiment, and basic infantry training with the 2nd Infantry Training Regiment. He completed this training in the latter part of October of that year.
He was promoted to private first class on November 1, 1967 and, later that month, he was ordered to the Republic of Vietnam. He was then assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Division, where he served as a rifleman with Company I, with Headquarters and Service Company, and then with Company L. Kenneth was promoted to lance corporal on May 1, 1968. On August 12, 1968, while serving as a machine gunner with Company L, he was killed.
A complete list of Kenneth’s medals and decorations include: the Medal of Honor, the Purple Heart, the National Defense Service Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal with four bronze stars, and the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal.
The Four Corners Vietnam Memorial Wall in Farmington, which was erected in 2004, features the names of veterans who served during the Vietnam War from Apache County, Arizona; Montezuma and La Plata Counties, Colorado; San Juan and McKinley Counties, New Mexico; and San Juan County, Utah. One section shows the names of those missing or killed during the war. The last name listed for San Juan County, New Mexico is that of Kenneth L. Worley.
A newspaper article published in the Farmington Daily Times of July 13, 2008 under the by-line of Debra Mayeux, reported: “Mystery Surrounds Farmington’s Lone Medal of Honor Recipient.” Regarding the Vietnam memorial referred to above, she went on to say: “A name on a wall without military rank or recognition of honors—that is how Farmington, NM recognizes its only Medal of Honor recipient.” The people of Farmington, Kenneth Worley’s birthplace and childhood home, evidently had not known that Kenneth had been awarded the Medal of Honor—the only New Mexican-born Marine to have received that special award.
That article when it appeared in Farmington’s hometown newspaper seemed to release what has become a major swelling of pride in retelling the story of a young man’s harsh beginnings and the valorous conclusion of his short life.
Retired Air Force Master Sergeant Bruce Salisbury, from a nearby town, has taken up the cause of honoring New Mexico’s hero. He was a moving force behind a Medal of Honor memorial as well as the proposed naming of a ship for Kenneth Worley.
It did not take Farmington long to realize and correct its oversight regarding the lack of special acknowledgment regarding Kenneth Worley’s sacrifice. In 2009, the city with generous donations from business interests of the area opened a memorial park to honor veterans of all wars. In Farmington’s Berg Park, a section along the Animas River walking path has been named the All Veterans Memorial Plaza.
My eldest son lives in Farmington, and when the ground breaking ceremony for the proposed memorial park was held on May 23, 2009, he attended on behalf of one of the companies helping with the funding. In March of this year, I was in Farmington. There, I walked along the Animas River parkway with my family. Upon reaching the memorial site, I was pleased to see that the city now had a very impressive display to honor all veterans, with a prominently visible spot to acknowledge three local Medal of Honor recipients. There are stone columns depicting each war and impressively set in front, facing the pathway alongside the Animas River, are four large stone pillars constructed of river rock. One of these pillars is entitled VALOR and perched on top is a bronze eagle. The bronze plaque tells of the significance of the Medal of Honor. The other three pillars feature plaques dedicated to the three Medal of Honor recipients. Each of these shows a picture of the recipient, his medal, and tells the story of his sacrifice. Only one is a Farmington native—Kenneth Worley. Kenneth Worley would no doubt be surprised and pleased to know that he is remembered and respected by the people of his hometown.
Since Debra Mayeux’ story appeared in the Farmington newspaper, many other towns and organizations are honoring Kenneth Worley as a very courageous young man.
The City of Westminster, California, the city that became Kenneth Worley’s final home, has remembered him with a memorial. On Saturday, August 29, 2009 at Westminster Civic Center Flag Poles, 8200 Westminster Blvd., a groundbreaking ceremony was held for placing a plaque in recognition of Kenneth L. Worley’s sacrifice.
In October of 2009, Michael Doyle of the McClatchy Newspaper’s Washington Bureau reported “California lawmakers seek to have ship named for Vietnam War Hero.” According to the article, Democratic senators Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer added their voices to the efforts of Representatives Dana Rohrabacher, George Radanovich and Dennis Cardoza towards the naming of a United States naval ship after Kenneth Worley. The letter they sent to the Secretary of the Navy related Cpl. Worley’s service and sacrifice. Also, the letter went on to state: “To fully understand the sacrifice made by Lance Cpl. Worley, we believe it is necessary to look at not only his service as a Marine, but the hardship he overcame to become one.”
In a later article for the same publisher, Mr. Doyle quoted the North Dakota psychologist who has researched Kenneth Worley’s life: “Worley was a quiet introspective person.” He further stated: “Even other Marines who served with Worley admit they didn’t know him.”
In Bellflower/Norwalk, California a group of young people are members of a non-profit organization known as L/Cpl Kenneth L. Worley Young Marines. The website for the unit states that it was formed as a living memorial to Lance Corporal Worley, who was an orphan from New Mexico. The organization is open to all children of 8 to 18 years of age, and is dedicated to strengthening their lives by teaching the values of courage, loyalty, honor, and patriotism in an atmosphere of teamwork and shared activities.
The Mount Kiamia Memorial Board in Aztec, New Mexico met in May of 2009 and the Board of Directors voted to make the completion of a bronze of Kenneth Lee Worley and The Young Marine their first major project. They chose a sculptor named Tom White, and he has done a sketch of the planned sculpture. Again, retired Master Sergeant Bruce Salisbury is steering this project. On the website “The Veterans’ Voice,” Salisbury says that he would like to see a bronze sculpture (full size) of Kenneth Lee Worley shown standing easy in his combat gear and alongside him a bronze of one of the Young Marines who are dedicated to Worley’s honor. The young man, age 8 or 9, to be looking up and saluting Worley. Salisbury further said “Conceptually, the Young Marine will represent Worley when he was young and dreamed of growing up.” At the present time money is being sought to complete the bronze sculpture.
As journalist and author Mike Doyle stated in one of his articles, “Undeniably, he [Kenneth Worley] was a bit of a mystery. Not every story told about him is true.”
Whatever the actual circumstances of Kenneth Worley’s life before he entered the Marine Corps, we can accept as truth that he was a special young man whose self-sacrificing response to danger ended his life far too soon.
Kenneth Lee Worley’s birth family ties appear to be unknown—a mystery. However, we may all claim him. In death, he belongs to each of us. As more people are learning the tragically heroic story of this young man, he is emerging from obscurity. His story is now being told over and over. His picture, showing a very young and serious-looking Marine, has become a familiar sight on the internet. Kenneth Lee Worley, whose youthful years are shrouded in mystery, has become a symbol of valor.
(1) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kennety L. Worley
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