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Greenwood veteran recalls the dangers of serving in Second World War

Second World War veteran Kenneth Keddy of Greenwood reflects on the medal he was awarded for his service with the First Special Forces.
SAM MACDONALD
Second World War veteran Kenneth Keddy of Greenwood reflects on the medal he was awarded for his service with the First Special Forces. SAM MACDONALD - Sam Macdonald
GREENWOOD, N.S. —

“Hard to believe” is the phrase Kenneth Keddy often uses to describe his experiences in the Second World War.

It was a year into his service as an infantryman with the West Nova Scotia Regiment when Keddy experienced a worst-case scenario in Italy in 1942.

“There were only three of us, and they brought us into an area where there was half a dozen or so Germans,” Keddy recalls. “Right around Jan. 7, there was an artillery shell that landed near us.
“I don’t know how far it was from us, but it got the three of us.”

Shrapnel from the detonation killed the other two soldiers.

Keddy survived the gruesome experience with an unpleasant souvenir of his service.
“(The explosion) knocked me down, and I felt something burning in the back of my leg. I reached down, pulled it out and it was a little piece of shrapnel about the size of my finger. No doubt, someone else might have gotten that right in the heart. I thank God it missed my heart,” Keddy said. “I wish I kept a piece of it but looking around and seeing so many dead people lying around, I figured I’d never get out of there, so I threw it back to the Germans.”

A piece of that metal fragment wouldn’t come out until more than four decades later, when the pain of his injury caught up with him for the first time since it gave him trouble at a parade in the Netherlands after the war.

“It never bothered me for years until 1983,” Keddy said. “I went to the hospital in Middleton and the doctor sent me to the military hospital in Halifax.”

The cartilage and kneecap were so badly injured they had to be completely removed.
“I’ve been walking on it ever since.”


PUSHING PAST PAIN

The true extent of Keddy’s injury was largely overlooked during his service in the war.

The demands of the battlefield took priority, and diagnostic imaging technology wasn’t exactly readily available.

So, Keddy persisted.

Instead of returning to Canada, he spent the next several years marching and running on the injured knee throughout Italy, France, Belgium and the Netherlands.

“I walked all over the place. We were walking all the time.”

Not only did Keddy shrug off the pain of a serious and minimally treated injury, he put even more demands on that knee.
After returning to the field, he volunteered to join the First Special Forces, an elite American-Canadian commando unit, for a two-year stint ending in 1944.

“They were looking for volunteers when I got out of the hospital, so I joined them,” Keddy said. He didn’t have much to say about those years, beyond mentioning he returned to the West Nova Scotia Regiment at the end of his stint as a member of the famed Devil’s Brigade.


ANOTHER CLOSE CALL

Keddy’s knee injury was not his only close encounter with death in Europe. In southern France, while fighting in foxholes in the shadow of a castle, danger reared its ugly head again.

“I saw what looked like a guy lying in a foxhole, held my rifle up and hollered at him,” Keddy said. “He was there, as stiff as a stick, and he was only about foot deep. He came right up and turned himself in. I took him right to the officers.”
Keddy still wonders to this day how many other German soldiers were in those foxholes.

“There must have been others around, when I stood up there and hollered. It’s a wonder they didn’t shoot me,” Keddy said. “I’d say God was with me, that’s for sure.”


ORIGINS

What inspired Keddy to enlist in one of the toughest and most dangerous jobs, in one of the most harrowing wars in world history?
“I was working ten-hour days, and getting five dollars a day, and I got to thinking – this was the summer – that I’d better see if I can get something else, so I can get a pair of boots to wear for the winter,” Keddy said.

Not long later, he met a soldier walking around, “got to asking a few questions,” and came to the conclusion that joining the forces would be a good deal.
“They were getting fed and everything else, and getting paid,” Keddy said. “So, I said, ‘that’s the best thing to get into.’”

He gives a shrug when asked if basic training was difficult.
“It never bothered me any, no. Back then when you’d work on the farm you’d be walking everywhere,” Keddy said. “You were always carrying something around. It was no different than that.”
Ashley Keddy, Keddy’s son, interjected, saying, “He was a farm boy, so he was in pretty good shape.”

“Hard to believe,”  his father repeated with a wistful grin.

Sam.macdonald@kingscountynews.ca

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