War and History Poetry posted March 27, 2007

This work has reached the exceptional level
Multiple Tetractys: A Family's Memory of WWII

What Price Courage?

by Mrs. KT

In honor of my uncle, Sgt. William A. Kenel: (1920-1944) - One of the Battling Bastards of Bataan

would be to
accept defeat.
To discard would demand a braver soul.
Pecans, walnuts, candied fruit for a cake
to soothe his fears
that Christmas.
She had
to her
brother - trapped
in hate's maelstrom.
U.S. soldier, now prisoner of war:
Nichols Field, Manila, the Philippines.
He was alive
when she baked
that fruit
a square
of parchment
his words revealed:
"There still is beauty found in God's sunset."
And their father said, "At least we know that
he is not blind."
All too soon
and they
feared the worst.
Still, all believed
that they would see their first born son again:
Wood carver, philosopher, their "Bodie."
For twelve long months
they waited;
was returned:
"Address Unknown"
April 23, 1943.
Tattered edges told of its long journey.
She traced his name;
faded now,
on paper
for her to see:
Air Corps: Sergeant William A. Kenel.
She tenderly held the package and wept
for the country,
for family,
for her
knew then
that never
would the world be
whole. Never again would she make that cake.
The sun had set upon her brother, Bill.
Emptiness now
reigned where once
there was
would pass.
His courage
would be made known:
The Bataan Death March had not claimed his life,
nor the prison of Cabanatuan.
A cargo-hold
sealed his fate:
"Hell" ship
Japan and
its slave labor.
The USS Snook charged its torpedoes.
All perished in the China Sea's great depths.
The toll so huge,
its captain
took his
his name. All
considered the
explanations offered now meaningless.
Her brother would never be home again.
She placed the cake
on a shelf.
She did
the will
nor the strength
to discard it.
To discard would be to accept defeat.



Author's Notes: Sgt. William A. Kenel, U. S. Army Air Corps, was among the 12,000 American soldiers who were surrendered to the Japanese at the tip of the Bataan Peninsula on April 9, 1942 during World War II. He survived the infamous Bataan Death March where over 1,000 soldiers perished during the nine day, 55 mile long trek, and the brutality of Cabanatuan Prison. On October 11,1944, he, along with 1774 other prisoners was crammed, at bayonet point, into the cargo hold of an unmarked Japanese "Hell " ship, the Arisan Maru, that sailed from Manila, Philippine Islands to the Japanese mainland. On October 24, 1944, the vessel was sunk by the American submarine, the U.S.S. Snook in the South China Sea. The captain of that ship committed suicide when he learned that his torpedoes had killed over 1500 men who had been chained in the cargo hold of the Japanese ship. For his valor, my uncle was awarded the Purple Heart posthumously. He had been a prisoner of war for thirty-one months. He was twenty four years old when he perished.
My mother, Ann Rachel McNeil Kenel is the "sister" in this poem. In reality, she was my uncle's sister-in-law, but she did, indeed, bake and send a fruitcake to Bill, and it was returned as recorded in the above rendering. As time passed, she baked fruit cakes during the Christmas holidays for our family, but she shared with me that she always thought of "Bodie" when she did so. . .
My father, Daniel Matthew Kenel, was a man of quiet strength and dignity. By his very nature, he was a man of few words. Never was this more true than when someone brought up his brother, Bill. My father had great difficulty speaking of his younger brother, "Bodie;" his passing left a tremendous gaping hole in the heart of my father's family. Yet, years later, when I was a teenager, my father welcomed into our family a Japanese exchange student because as Dad said, "It's time that we all heal."
That in itself is the triumph and legacy of my uncle's life. . .and perhaps, my father's as well. . .Diane Kenel-Truelove 3/30/07

Poetic Format: Multiple Tetractys: Syllabic Count: 1/2/3/4/10/10/4/3/2/1 etc. If you have a "skinny browser" the formatting may not appear to be correct; I assure you that it is.

Also Note: Regarding the pronunciation of "William:" Although a reviewer pointed out that it should be pronounced as having two syllables, as in "Will-yum;" no one in my family has ever pronounced his name as such. Uncle Bill was always "Wil-lee-um" due in large part to the way my immigrant grandparents pronounced his name. Given that fact, the line where his name appears does, indeed, contain the correct ten syllable count.
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