Back to Last Roll Call Home Page   

John A. Kemp

Company D-2

3 Feb 1940 - 8 Aug 1966

Place of Death: Killed in Action in the Republic of Viet Nam

Interment: West Point Cemetery, West Point, NY

Remembrances:

Class Memorial Pages\D-2 John Kemp.pdf

My name is John Alda Kemp jr. I am also known as John Edward Bruetsch. Army Captain John Alda Kemp is my natural father. I have recently sought more information of my father, and happened upon this page (at West-Point.org). I noted that he had no eulogy posted, and felt it necessary to write one.

I did not know my father. He died in 1966. I was four years old at the time of his death, and he had been in Vietnam for 10 months at that time. The recollections I do have are mostly from stories told me by family members and others that did know him. Nevertheless, I do know that he was a good man. An honor bound man. A man that lost his life in the belief of a soldier's duty to his country and the concept of the American way of truth and justice for all. I hope, as I am sure he did, that these values are indeed gods will and that his death would not be in vain.

He left in his passing his wife Julie, and 3 children. Youngest, Joy Ann, Jaquline Angelique (Angel), and oldest, myself; John Alda.

It has taken me years to truly realize the effects of my father's early passing. As anyone could imagine the loss was great. I know now that the person most affected was my mother. In fact I am confident in saying that she never recovered the piece of her soul that was lost when those uniformed men came to our door that day to tell her the most horrible possibility of a man in uniformed service at war had occurred.

My mother has now too passed. She will be laid next to my father in West Point 30 June 2004. I will be there to honor them both. I shiver at the view my mind's eye paints for me of that day as it rapidly approaches. There will be much sorrow, remembered pain, and thankfully, finally, peace for my mother. She will be joining my father again, and hopefully they will wait for and welcome us, their children as we too complete our lives and lessons here on earth.

 

Daddy John,
Though I may have never met you, your core burns in me. I see you with glimpses, I feel you in spirit. I know you had your plans but God had His own. One day we will meet and then I can know, but until then your honor still lives. You may be gone for some but for me I hold you dear. I want to walk this earth proud that I am exactly who you had hoped I'd be.

I laid mom next to you that one summer day, I prayed that she was now resting. I fought through that day without my siblings any where to be found. I felt so very alone but the solice that we were together, us three, the first time, the only time, just you, her and me. Others came to my side and carried me through that day, your family, your friends, they were so kind. I walked the halls you walked, I heard the stories of those school years, such precious memories it will always be. It wasnt our end dad, it was our start until we meet again.

In love,
Joy Ann

 

Assembly/Taps Memorial Article:

John Alda Kemp '61
No. 23555 • 3 Feb 1940- 8 Aug 1966
Killed in Action in the Republic of Viet Nam  • Interred in West Point Cemetery, West Point, NY

"He started flying because he wanted to be an astronaut," wrote CPT John Alda Kemp's hometown newspaper. The report of his disappearance, confirmed death by hostile fire, and a brief biography of his 27 years of life, cover a brief six inches beside a one column photograph of him in West Point gray. Such a small tribute for a young man who was so much more to his family, friends, fellow officers, and country.

John was born in Bud, WV, to Mildred and Albert Kemp, the eldest of five children. Though many who resided in the surrounding West Virginia coalfields were materially poor, John and his four siblings enjoyed the richness of a normal childhood through sports, fishing, and hunting. Beginning when John was eleven, however, three family tragedies struck in quick succession, robbing the children of much of that richness. His mother's death in childbirth marked the first of the family upheavals. Soon thereafter, his youngest brother, Jimmy, met an untimely death and, yet two years later, his father passed away. The Kemp family was torn apart, literally. Relatives spread across West Virginia took in the four remaining children. John found a home with his aunt and maternal uncle, Jean and Terry McAlister of Mullens, WV. With their sons, Terry and Howard, the McAlisters raised John as one of their own.

The turmoil in his young life didn't deflect this young man of character and ambition. Under the guidance and love of his aunt and uncle, he excelled academically, graduating from Mullens High School with honors. He dreamed of attending the Air Force Academy and secured a congressional appointment.

Those aspirations would soon be sidetracked, though, when John failed the vision test. The failure was not his, bur a record keeping error; however, fate and an alternate plan redirected John. By the time the mix-up was discovered, the resourceful young man had implemented Plan B—West Point.

John wrote from West Point in 1957, "Coming here may seem like a second choice to some, but it gives me shivers. Our class motto is " '61, Second to None."

His West Virginia schooling had not prepared him for the demands of West Point academics, but he rose to the challenge and held his own through the four years. The demands forged the young man and his relationships with his fellow cadets.

He was noted for saying the most improbable things at the most inopportune times, always delivered in a West Virginia twang. His classmates were grateful for John's humor because it was soon found that upperclassmen enjoyed his comic relief, and that they, in turn, would relax the famous "square meals" required of plebes. That allowed fellow cadets at his table the opportunity to eat like human beings.

John made his devotion to "Duty, Honor, Country" completely clear to Julia Ann Castoro ("Julie") when he presented her a miniature and proposed in 1960. John laid out their life in detail, talking often about the path their lives would take, and how the military would be its focus. He liked being a military man, often repeating that details should be laid out "completely and correctly."

Three days after graduation, the two married in the Catholic Chapel. The newlyweds went to Ft. Bliss, TX, for Air Defense School, then on to Ft. Sill, OK, for Field Artillery training. While at Ft. Benning, GA, John wasn't the only Kemp family member to make a momentous first jump, as that is when John, Jr., arrived.

The Cuban Missile Crisis punctuated John's initial troop assignment to the Los Angeles Air Defense Sector, where he served as IFC platoon leader, Battery D, 4th Missile Battalion, 65th Artillery. For the Kemps, 1964 was a good year. John was promoted to Executive Officer of Battery D, and daughter Jacqueline joined the family on New Years Eve.

John followed his goal skyward in September 1964, going to Ft. Rucker, AL, to attend Aviation School. He found it easy to get back to the classroom, especially since it would help him fulfill his dream of becoming a military pilot. Promotion to captain rounded out the year for him.

In July 1965, John was assigned to the 2d Battalion, 32d Artillery, at Ft. Sill, OK. Within three months, he was an FAC assigned to the 23rd Artillery Group in the Republic of Viet Nam. He was flying and loving it. Daughter Joy was born that November, sadly, a joy he would never know.

One month short of his rotation back to the States, John disappeared while flying cover in his L-19 Bird Dog for a vehicle convoy along Highway One between Ben Hoa and Xaun Loc. After an extensive search that included several of his friends and fellow West Point classmates, no trace of John or his aircraft was found. Seven months later, ground forces found the crash site and recovered John's remains from his shot up aircraft.

Those who die do not count the days of the living, and for John's family, the days of effort and concern to set the record straight on his behalf became decades. It would be 24 years before John's complete sacrifice for his country would be recognized.

At the time of his recovery from the jungle, it was noted in letters to Julie from his commanding officer that "John's plane had been shot down by enemy ground fire," but the original Casualty Report listed him as a "Non-Battle" casualty.

CPT John Alda Kemp was awarded a Purple Heart on 8 Aug 1990, at West Point. Earlier, John received the Bronze Star and six awards of the Air Medal posthumously.

His life was short but infused with "Duty, Honor, Country." The young man married, began a family, and pursued his goal of flight—the fulfillment of personal dreams for which he always will be remembered.

The Lord took him by the hand on 8 Aug 1966 and placed him in the Long Gray Line, where he is ever able to "Put out 'his' hand and touch the face of God."

Family, friends, and classmates

MARCH / APRIL 2001 ASSEMBLY 173