Kuchenbecker honored as Veteran of the Month
John Kuchenbecker, WWII veteran and longtime resident of the Philip area, was recognized, March 21, at Rapid City’s city council meeting, by Rapid City Mayor Steve Allender as the Veteran of the Month for March.
Kuchenbecker was born Feb. 1, 1925, in Madison. He enlisted in the United States Navy at the age of 17, and like many others he lied about his age. Kuckenbecker served from November 1942 to November 1946 and was stationed on the USS Heywood APA naval warship the entire time.
Kuchenbecker operated Higgins boats, landing craft utilized to transport troops and equipment during amphibious landings to enemy territories. The Higgins boats could transport up to 46 Marines and Army soldiers. Upon transporting soldiers to shore, the Higgins boats would pick up wounded soldiers, provide care and return the wounded back to the ship. Their ship was equipped with a hospital and at times the officers quarters where turned into surgical centers.
The USS Heywood APA and Kuchenbecker traveled extensively and participated in of some of the most dangerous battles of World War II, providing support with amphibious assaults at Guadalcanal, the Aleutians and various Japanese held islands, including the capture of the Marshall Islands, and the invasion of the Philippines. Kuckenbecker served during these dangerous major battles and received eight Bronze Star medals for his missions. The USS Heywood APA earned seven battle stars for operations in the Asiatic Pacific and in the Philippines Liberation.
Kuchenbecker and his wife, Gladys (Hanrahan), were married March 3, 1946, and just celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary. After discharge from the Navy, Kuchenbecker ranched in the Milesville and Philip areas where he and Gladys raised their four sons. After 26 years of ranch work, Kuchenbecker then served on the South Dakota Livestock Sanitary Board for 22 years. Upon retirement, the couple divided their time between West Whitlock, along the Missouri River and Mission, Texas. The two moved to the Rapid City in 2015.
Raised during times of hardship, Kuchebecker learned from an early age the importance of hard work and humility. He and Gladys have since been exemplary pillars of the Kuchenbecker family. Kuchenbecker just turned 91 years old and Gladys turned 90 in February. They are blessed with 11 grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren.