Sergeant Don M. Kenney in World War Two

Submitted by son-in-law Terry D. McGill

Credit: all materials to his widow Marilyn Kenney & her children.

Text Box: 487th 2nd Anniversary Brochure
from Don’s collection
Text Box:  



SSGT Donald M. Kenney was a tailgunner with the 487th “Dogface” Squadron 340th Bomb Group.  He flew 75 combat missions in B-25s from August 1944 until the end of the war.  Like most real combat vets he was always reluctant to speak about his wartime experiences.  This narrative is based upon what he told to me and to other family members about those experiences.  


Don was born in Denver Colorado in 1924 and was raised in and around the Denver area. 

His father worked as a chauffer for a Colorado senator.  Don spoke about how in the summers they enjoyed many happy times while staying at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park; Steven King’s model for the Overlook Hotel in “The Shining”. 


Don joined the Army Air Corps in 1943 & was trained as an aerial gunner.   His first airplane flight was in a B-17 in which he and others were taken up for gunnery practice.  His older brother Frank, who was also in the service but was not combat qualified, exhibited a fair bit of jealousy over the fact that his little brother was a real combat airman. 


Don in Egypt.   Zaghlue Alexandria below.




Don recalled flying to South America and crossing the Atlantic from Brazil “the short way” to Africa in 1944.  From there they travel to Egypt where they continued their training.  While in Egypt he did the usual off duty tourist things that other GI’s did; rode a camel and visited the pyramids.  But when their tour guide offered to take them down inside one of the tombs Don’s superstition got the better of him and he declined.  He figured that he’d need all the luck possible in the coming months and didn’t want to risk picking up any bad karma poking around in an ancient tomb. 


Don was sent to Corsica  and his first missions in August 1944 were to support the allied landings in the South of France.  He literally lived the “Catch 22” experience in that his original missions quota was 25 but, due to a shortage of trained aircrew, this number was periodically raised until he flew a total of 75 missions. 

Don in Alesan, Cosica



B25’s: 9 Z takeoff;  7M and Squadron in flight;  Tail Damage   -  tailgunner?





Don once told me that while at the time he would have had no moral problem with flying in the strategic bombers that bombed German cities and killed many civilians, after the war he came to appreciate the fact that all of his missions were tactical ones against military targets.  Young kids caught up in the midst of a war to the death did not necessarily have the same qualms that a middle aged man reflecting back 40 years might experience.  It was some comfort to him to know that his war was fought strictly against enemy soldiers. 


During the rare times that he discussed the war at all, usually Don would tell a story about something funny that happened in the barracks or while off duty.  One favorite story was about how several of them went down to a beach in Corsica to hunt seagulls with Tommy guns!  And he’d talk about how good the Corsican wine was and how they would trade for or purchase it from the locals.  He rarely spoke about the actual experience of combat.  Once he briefly related how he had to make a fast dash out of his hammock to head for a shelter during an air raid by the Germans.  More than once he would be in the middle of some story and then mention that so and so was later killed.  That would be the end of that discussion as Don would get that certain look in his eyes as he recalled his long lost friend. 


I asked him if he ever had a chance to fire at any enemy fighters.  No, he replied, the Axis air force was very depleted by the time he saw action and American fighter escorts did a good job of keeping them at bay.  However he did chuckle when he told me about the only time he actually fired his twin .50 cal. machine guns “in anger”.  “We made a Christian out of a P-47 pilot once!”  It seems that one of their own escorts had gotten himself into the wrong position behind Don’s B-25 box, an area where any plane was presumed to be German.  Don and the other tailgunners let loose with a blast of fire but quickly saw that the target was friendly as the P-47 veered away, fortunately unhurt. 


Reading some of the letters Don wrote to his mother reveals a typical glimpse of the life of the World War II American servicemen.  Nearly every letter asked for her to write more letters and to send candy.  I haven’t heard from you in so long!, he’d complain.  Then there would be a letter saying that he had just received a whole stack of letters and packages from her; thanks for the candy!  It appears that the mail always got through but

not on a regular basis; mail, like combat action, was a sudden and often times overwhelming experience! 

Don and Mom


Don and brother Frank


A typical enlisted man, Don had few good words to say about officers.  Most left a very negative impression on him.  The exceptions were the pilot officers he flew with.  They were the absolute best in his book and he very much appreciated their flying and navigating skills that got him through each mission safely. 


One of the best stories told how after VE Day everybody in the European Theater was eager to get on a plane and fly back to the States as fast as they could.  Except the flyers.  They had had their fill of air travel and were very contented to take their time sailing home in a ship!  Don did not fly in an airplane again until the 1970s when he took his family to St. Louis to attend the graduation of his eldest son.  Karen and I flew with Don & Marilyn from Boston to Portland, ME in a twin prop “puddle jumper” that reminded him of his old B-25.  He was more than happy when that flight ended. 


Don survived the war to return to Colorado.  He was awarded the Air Medal with a number of clusters earned due to the fact that many of the missions he flew had been very successful.  He soon moved to San Francisco where be began working for the telephone company.  Don worked over 30 years for Ma Bell.  It was while working there at he met and married Marilyn Burkhart.  Marilyn had served in the USO during the war as a singer and saxophone player entertaining the troops at the tender age of 16. 


Don and Marilyn settled in Pacifica, CA buying the home she still lives in there in 1950 with a loan through the GI Bill.  Marilyn recalls how scared she was when the Korean War broke out that the Air Force might try to re-activate Don back into the service since, once again, there was a shortage of trained aircrew.  Fortunately that never occurred.


Don and Marilyn had four children, Steven, Colleen, Karen and Dale.  Don lived to enjoy life with his first six grandchildren born before he died in 1989.  They currently have seven grandchildren and five great grandchildren with more on the way.  Don never considered himself to be a hero.  He was just a regular American who went to war because his country needed him.



Don Kenney Collection Other Photos