DARKE COUNTY – WWII veteran Kenneth Midlam still lives alone in Arcanum, still drives, has 20|20 vision at 101 years of age and was taking in the 2023 Great Darke County Fair on a very hot day in Greenville.
Midlam was born in 1922 and attended Franklin (Franklin-Monroe) through the sixth grade. After attending Newton for another two and a half years he left school and went to welding school and soon it became his trade.
In 1942 at 20 years of age he was just about to be drafted into the military so he enlisted in the US Army where he served three years, two overseas while serving in the European Theatre in Ireland, England, France, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg during World War II.
“I had a welding trade and had a welder,” Midlam said. “I did that all the way through the service.”
While overseas, Midlam served with the 501st Heavy Maintenance Tank Ordinance.
“My outfit was about 250 men,” he noted. “We served 27 outfits. General Patton made us the combat ordinance so we were right close to the front line.”
While serving with the 501st Midlam had a chance opportunity to come in contact with General Patton.
“A Colonel came up with the idea of the flamethrower on a tank and all they had was the backpack (flamethrower),” Midlam said. “We mounted it and got all done and my buddy was going to drive the tank out and he says, ‘you want to ride along’, and I said yes.”
“We were going to demonstrate it for Patton and we drove out to this hedge row,” he continued. “Of course Patton and his driver come up and the Colonel was there. The Colonel says, ‘fire it off’ – well, the guy fired a stream of flame. ‘Fire it again’, he said – Patton says; I can piss a bigger stream than that and Patton and his jeep drove away but we did mount a big one later on.”
“I just got to see him,” Midlam added. “I didn’t get to meet him but I got to see him anyway. All the guys respected him. He would get in a tank and go anyplace anybody else would go. He slapped some GI because he was crying or something and he got into trouble – the GI probably deserved it.”
Midlam shared a 1944 Christmas Eve event while stationed at Luxembourg, Germany.
“We was convoying at night and a German plane set a gasoline dump on fire and lit up the whole area,” Midlam shared. “The next day we had Christmas dinner and the next day, out of 250 men 248 had diarrhea.”
Midlam was married 64 years to his late wife, Hazel Midlam who he spoke quite fondly of.
“Hazel was out of Kentucky but she’s a sweetheart – I’ll tell you that,” he said. “She was working in Dayton with my sister and my sister sent me her address so I started writing letters to her.”
“I wrote letters for quite a while and I finally got a three day pass to come home. I came home and went to see her on Saturday night. She was living with her cousin, they wasn’t home so her sister and I waited around till they came home later on and she said I don’t want to meet him.”
“Her sister said go out and meet him,” he added. “Later on Sunday I went back to camp and in two weeks I shipped overseas. I was overseas for two years, wrote letters all the time, got home in November of ’45 and married in January of ’46.”
Midlam has been attending the Great Darke County Fair for no less than the past 95 years. He noted the big change are the amusement rides at the fair.
“I was six years old and I can remember coming to the fair – maybe longer than that,” he said. “There have been a lot of changes. They had the Ferris wheel, the merry go round, swings and things like that. Wasn’t anything like it is today.”
“Back then you would park down where the farm machinery is – it was all parking area in there. Mother fixed good fried chicken and we would go to the car at noon for lunch.”
“I went to the car and dad came and said, ‘son come with me, I want to show you something’. We walked just a little bit to the west, about half way down to where the horse barns are today and two guys with suits, white shirts and ties on just rolling around in the dirt and dad said, ‘now son, that’s what alcohol will do for you,’ and that stuck with me. They were drunk as could be.”
Following discharge from the Army, Midlam spent the next 32 years working as an electronic technician for NCR.
Kenneth Midlam’s advice for longevity: “It’s hereditary. My dad almost made it to 100. I didn’t smoke or drink much – just lucky.”