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One last mission: WWII vet finally meets son of fallen comrade

By ERNEST ROLLINS | Herald-Times, Bloomington, Ind. | Published: March 22, 2016

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (Tribune News Service) — World War II veteran John S. Mace, 92, had one more mission despite the war being long over.

That was to meet the child of one of his fellow soldiers, Harry Clifford Kent, who died a few feet away from Mace during a battle the day after he learned that he would be a father.

On Monday, Mace had the opportunity to see this mission through. After more than seven decades, he finally met Bloomington’s Gary Kent, Harry Kent’s son, at the local American Legion post, having traveled over from Terre Haute, where Mace now lives. Each man had only heard about the other a little over a week ago, after a family friend sought the aid of the Monroe County Public Library staff to track down Gary Kent after hearing Mace’s story.

“I’ve waited years for this,” Mace said about meeting Gary Kent for the first time. Harry Kent, he said, “was a man that even though I outranked him, I looked up to him.”

After greeting each other, the men sat across a table from each other as Mace recalled numerous moments from the war involving Gary’s father, including the news about his final moments.

Both Harry Kent and Mace served their country as part of Company G, 291st regiment of the 75th Infantry, during the Battle of the Bulge — an operation stretching from mid-December 1944 to late January 1945, toward the end of World War II, in which U.S. troops bore the brunt of a German offensive in the Ardennes region of Belgium. That division, along with another, was integral in repelling the German troops’ attack during the battle, Mace said.

Harry Kent knew he had a son

There were two things Mace said he most wanted Gary Kent to know about Harry Kent: His dad did not suffer in dying, and the news about his son’s birth had reached him before he died.

Mace said he remembers the excitement on Harry Kent’s face when he received a telegram about becoming a father. Gary Kent said the accounts he had heard before suggested his dad was not aware that he had even been born.

Mace said they thought it was a daughter, and it was not until after the war that he found out it was actually a son.

“I was supposed to be Judy, but I didn’t cooperate,” Gary Kent said. “Mom (Ruth Kent) always talked about me being Judy and Dad said if I didn’t cooperate that I should be Steve, but Mom didn’t cooperate with Dad.”

Unfortunately, Mace said he remembered vividly the battle that claimed the life of Harry Kent. He said he was about 12 feet from his comrade when he died.

Since joining the same squad, he said, the two were always together right up to Harry Kent’s death on the battlefield. He said whenever he went on patrols, he always wanted Harry Kent to be by his side.

“Kent was a remarkable man,” Mace said. “He was an exceptional soldier.”

Gary Kent said he learned a lot on Monday about his father that he never knew and is grateful that Mace was willing to share that information with him. Many people, especially his mother, shared stories and letters his dad sent family members while he was in the war. Kent said the last letter was received on Jan. 8, 1945.

He said after a while, when no more letters arrived, it was the first sign his mom had that something was wrong. Eventually, a letter would come from a colonel, informing the family about his father’s death on the battlefield.

“She never got over it,” Gary Kent said.

Library helped bring them together

Christine Eykholt Friesel, community librarian at the Monroe County Public Library, said an old photograph was all she had with which to begin her search. Friesel said she searched through obituary notices, census records and marriage records and was able to locate the child of Harry Kent within a couple of hours.

Gary Kent said when he received a phone call about Mace and his search, he had no reservations. He said he was amazed not only by Mace’s account of his father, but also by what he went through during the war.

Friesel said a newspaper from 1948 indicated Harry Kent was part of a group of four people from Monroe County’s contingent of war dead that were returned to local soil for burial.

Charles E. Phillips, William Hughes Hoadley and John L. Hays were the others.

Gary Kent said his dad’s funeral at the First Christian Church in Nashville is the first memory he has.

Harry Kent was 20 years old when he entered the armed forces and had been overseas for three months before he was killed.

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©2016 the Herald-Times (Bloomington, Ind.)
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