PFC Kenneth J. Whelan


Kenneth J. Whelan
Brooklyn, NY
Aunt, Mrs. Kathryn Berry
October 3, 1940
September 26, 1942
Guadalcanal E/2/5 PFC KIA
Purple Heart
Private First Class
Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, Philippines.

Birth and Early Life:
Little information about Kenneth Whelan’s early life is available–but what little is known is tragic. Kenneth and two sisters, Maria and Eileen, were orphaned at a young age; by 1930, all three were living in Catholic orphanages in Brooklyn, New York. The girls boarded at St. Joseph’s Orphan Asylum in Bushwick, while Kenneth lived at St. John’s Home for Boys. (1)

In the early 1930s, the Whelan children were taken in by their maternal aunt, Mrs. Kathryn Berry. Kenneth may not have remained there long; he appears on no census records at the Berry house on Ovington Street, but gave the address as his home when he enlisted in the Marine Corps.

Enlistment and Boot Camp:
Whelan enlisted in New York, NY on October 3, 1940. He trained at Parris Island for weeks, and on December 14 received his first assignment at the Marine Barracks, Navy Yard Washington, D.C.

Service Prior to World War II:
1941 was an interesting year to be in the nation’s capital, and Whelan got off to a bad start by disobeying an NCO’s lawful order on January 16 – he was brought up on charges and sentenced to three days of solitary confinement on bread and water. He remained on duty in Washington until the summer, at which point he was transferred to Company E, Second Battalion, 5th Marines. Private Whelan was on mess duty with this company at New River, North Carolina, when Pearl Harbor was attacked.

Wartime Service:
Rifleman Whelan did not remain a private for long after the war began. He continued training at New River as a PFC for several months before his regiment packed up and headed west to California, there to board the transports that would take them to a new camp in New Zealand.

The original plan called for the freshly-organized First Marine Division to practice amphibious operations in New Zealand for quite some time before launching an offensive, but reports of a Japanese airstrip nearing completion in the Solomon Islands drastically reduced the time available. Whelan and his comrades were bundled back aboard their transports, and sailed off for a previously unremarkable island called Guadalcanal.

Second Battalion, 5th Marines (2/5) was split off from the remainder of the regiment, and ordered to support landing operations on Tulagi, a small island off Guadalcanal that was home to a Japanese garrison. At 0916 on August 7, 1942, Whelan was splashing ashore on Tulagi’s Beach Blue. His company was sent to support the Company B of the First Raider Battalion; they spent their first day in combat helping search out enemy stragglers, and their first night helping to repel scattered enemy counterattacks and infiltrators. August 8 saw Whelan’s company advancing against the last of the Japanese resistance, herding them into a ravine where a strong, combined attack wiped most of them out – Tulagi was essentially secure. 2/5 moved to Sasapi, on the island’s northeastern coast, and set up beach security positions.

Whalen participated in a handful of additional patrols without encountering any major action until August 21, when his battalion was ferried across to Guadalcanal. They spent the next several weeks much as they had on Tulagi – patrolling during the day, guarding the line at night, supporting other combat units – but on a much larger scale. Whalen’s first taste of serious pitched combat came during the September 14 attack against the Raiders on Bloody Ridge; his company was moved up towards the end of the fighting as reinforcements, but still suffered casualties.

On September 25, the battalion was ordered to prepare to move out. First Battalion, 7th Marines had run into strong enemy resistance along the Matanikau River; 2/5 ran into Marines from the 7th returning with nearly two dozen stretcher cases. As if to reinforce the sense of impending trouble, scouts from Whalen’s Company E found the remains of enemy cook fires – with the ashes still warm.

Date Of Loss:
The following day, September 26, saw 2/5 advancing along the east bank of the Matanikau until they reached the river. The Japanese gave no sign of their presence until Company E attempted to cross the river – then they opened up with hidden machine guns and mortars, stopping the Marines in their tracks and forcing them back to the trees where they started.

PFC Whelan was killed in the attack across the Matanikau River; due to the conditions of the battle, his remains could not be recovered.

Next Of Kin:
Aunt, Mrs. Kathryn Berry

Status Of Remains:

Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, Philippines.
(1) Kenneth Whelan was honored in a memorial Mass for the St. John’s boys who gave their lives in World War II. Aside from this anecdote, precious little hard information is available about his life before the war.

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