The Korean War was raging when Robert Kennedy Dunaway of Greenwood enlisted in the US Air Force at the age of 20. He’d never been away from home and never known any jobs except the one he had at the “Greenwood Mercantile” grocery store. He worked there after graduating from Greenwood High School in 1949. Of course, there were also the jobs that went along with growing up on the family farm with his three brothers, one sister and parents Omie C. and Sarah Edell (Dickson) Dunaway. Kenny was a good student, but he would have to wait until after his service before he could go to college with the help of the GI Bill.
So Kenny and two of his close friends, Billy Spencer and Jimmy Pender, decided to join the Air Force. “On the cold morning of Feb. 1, 1951,” Dunaway explained at the TIMES offices last Thursday, “the three of us went to Panama City and were sworn in at the Air Force Recruiting Station. Although I was somewhat apprehensive, I felt that I had an obligation to fulfill. My two older brothers had served in World War II. O. C. Dunaway Jr. served with the 81st Wildcat Division in the Army infantry, seeing action in Okinawa and the Philippines and earning the Purple Heart in the process. James Bryant was in the Army and at Hickam Field when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.”
And Kenny didn’t know it yet, but he had a Patriot ancestor in the Revolutionary War, William Dunaway (1751-1830). His cousin Fletcher Dunaway discovered that fact a few years ago and formed the William Dunaway Chapter/ Marianna--Sons of the American Revolution, (SAR) in 2008. Kenny’s other brother Harry “Hap” Dunaway, who was profiled in the TIMES last year, served in the Army from 1947 to 1949.
Kenny’s good grades on his enlistment aptitude tests got him a job as a clerk typist and ended up keeping him out of warfare. After basic training, he was privileged to attend “tech school” at the University of Connecticut due to the huge influx of volunteers for the war effort. The tech schools at the USAF bases were jammed. Following his instruction, Dunaway was sent on a 14-day troop ship journey to Japan, landing at Yokohama. His service consisted of providing support for the Air Force bombers and other planes sent to the war from the big US base in Japan--located about 30 miles from Tokyo--Johnson Air Force Base. Dunaway was assigned to the 528th Aircraft Control and Warning Group (ACWG) under the 41st Air Division. “All this was under what was then called the Far East Air force,” he explained. “It’s now called the Pacific Air Command.”
Dunaway had a security clearance to handle secret messages, special orders and memos that were distributed throughout the chain of command. “We had radar sites all over Japan,” he explained, “monitoring the skies over the region that included all of Korea. Some of the planes we had at the base included the F-86 Saber jets, the F-94 Starfire and the B-29s. Johnson was the largest Air Force Base in Japan and flew missions on a daily basis.”
Dunaway and the troops were instructed to treat the people of Japan with extra courtesy. “We were advised that we were in their country,” he said. “We were to respect them and their culture. The Japanese people had high respect for us.” Hiroshima and Nagasaki had come just six years earlier, but Japan’s positive attitude was to respond with democratically building one of the largest economies in the post-World War II world. “It was highly-populated and everybody went by train,” Dunaway explained. “And if you go by train, you better be on time because they sure were—every day.”
Kenny enjoyed Japan’s hospitality so much, he climbed Mt. Fuji—twice. “I spent three Christmases in Japan,” he explained, “in my two and one-half year tour of duty. I saw the ‘Rising Sun’ from the top of Mt. Fuji, climbing the volcano twice when I was there. That was very humbling and inspiring to look down and see the sunrise coming up below the clouds. That’s why I climbed it a second time.”
Dunaway was in Japan when the treaty was signed in 1953, ending the war but sadly, not doing away with North Korea. However, America won the war; South Korea (and Japan) remain free and out of the hands of North Korea to this day. North Korea remains a threat to peace everywhere.
Kenny Dunaway served the rest of his four-year Air Force term back in the states at Donaldson Air Force Base in beautiful Greenville, S.C. Known as “the Airlift Capital of the World,” Donaldson handled all the famous cargo planes, and Kenny still remembers their names: “the C119 Flying Boxcar, the C124 Globemaster and the C130 Hercules, among others.”
Kenny came home to Nubbin Ridge in January 1955 and by September was enrolled in the new school in Marianna called Chipola Jr. College. He graduated in 1957 and transferred to Florida State University in Tallahassee where he received a degree in business administration. He began a career with the State of Florida beginning with the Department of Revenue in Tallahassee and ending as Environment Health Director with the Gadsden County Health Department in Quincy. Kenny had moved back to the Nubbin Ridge Road house he was born in for the last few years before he retired in 1986.
That house was built in 1914, Kenny explained. In 2012 he and brother Hap who lives next door applied for inclusion in the state’s Century Farm historical program and won that designation for “Dunaway Family Farm at Nubbin Ridge.” (The story goes, Kenny explains, that the community was named after a particularly bad crop of corn resulted in the kernels developing into only “nubbins,” not mature ears of corn.) Kenny enjoys his membership in not only the William Dunaway SAR Chapter, but the Chipola Historical Trust and the Florida Baptist Historical Society as well. He is a member of the VFW Post #12064 and the Greenwood Baptist Church which the history buff says is the “third oldest Baptist Church in the state that is still worshipping.”
Dunaway was privileged to go on the Honor Flight to Washington, D.C., last year, along with a local Korean combat veteran, Tommy Granger and cousin Fletcher. “To see Arlington National Cemetery and think of all those sacrifices,” he said, “was a truly humbling experience. I’m proud to have served our country during the 1950s, a time that was--I think--the best years of the country. It is an honor and I am thankful to be part of ‘The Greatest Generation.’”
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