Vietnam veteran Kenneth West has traded one army for another, one weapon for another and one battle for another — and he is perfectly content with the battle he wages each day of 2019.
Coming from a military family, he didn't think twice when his draft number was called. He went into the army and headed to Vietnam. And this year, when the opportunity arose to join the Salvation Army, he again did not think twice. He responded.
In the U.S. Army, he was a member of the III Corps artillery. He can rattle off the caliber of weapons used by the artillery in Vietnam with ease, and tell stories of his time overseas.
“I went a lot of different places, wherever they sent us,” West said.
He served for two years, 11 months and 29 days — not that he was counting. He was in Vietnam for 14 months. Two of his brothers served in the military as well, also in Vietnam. His father served in WWII and Korea, and a grandfather served in both World Wars.
After his time in the Army, West started driving a truck. He did that, living in multiple places across the nation, before he retired.
He now drives the Salvation Army van and picks up food from area stores for distribution through the food bank at the Harvey County Salvation Army office on West Sixth — the largest Salvation Army Food Bank in the state.
“I love it,” West said. “I like what they do. I never understood it as much as when I came here. Seeing actually what they do for people, I have a lot of respect for people — especially children. I love children.”
In talking to West, it is at this moment when sorrow crosses his face, and tears are fought back. He will pick at his fingers as he tries to come to grips with his old life.
“I hurt a lot of children when I was overseas,” West said. “I didn't mean to, but it happened. I killed a lot of families when I was overseas. I didn't mean to, but it happened.”
That's the life of an artillery gunner who operated howitzers. But that life is over for West. Now, he fights a war against hunger with donated food as his biggest weapon.
The food bank will pack nearly 270 food boxes for Christmas Program participants to be distributed with toys for kids early in December.
“I had never dealt with the Salvation Army. I went to a church for a handout because I needed food at one time or another,” West said. “I went to them a couple of times, but I had never gone to the Salvation Army. … Seeing people come in here, helping people get their groceries out to their cars, knowing that you are feeding people and seeing the food donated to this facility — it is good food. These are good people who work here, I love all of them.”
And, he said, he likes beating hunger.
“I like doing what I am doing,” West said. “When we are out there, people see the Salvation Army, they are polite to us. They know it's for a good cause. That is what I like … feeding the hungry.”