(From left) Ken Buffington at home on leave with his mother, father and sister back at home in Coatesville, PA in 1944. photo provided.
Honey Brook Twp, PA—The Tel Hai community will be celebrating many blessings this season. Observing our national celebrations of Thanksgiving and Veterans’ Day in November, it seemed a wonderful opportunity to recognize the sacrifices of what has been termed America’s “Greatest Generation.” The Garrett Community Center display has been reserved for our Veterans Group to give us an opportunity to say thank you for our country’s many blessings and the some of the “heroes” who live among us.
Ken Buffington was a Coatesville High School student with a 4.0 grade point average when he enlisted in the US Army in June, 1944. This self-taught trumpet player had picked up the instrument at the age of 12 and by age 16 he was a well-known performer at Bible conferences and in many churches. This talent would later shine in USO performances and in two years of post-war touring with Harry James’ band.
In 1944 however, Ken reported to Indiantown Gap for infantry training followed by additional training in Luxembourg with other replacement forces. In December of that year he joined the 110th Regimental Combat Team of the 28th Infantry Division in Clervaux, Belgium—exactly six months from his date of enlistment.
The 28th Division was recuperating from a brutal deployment in the Hurtgen Forest. When Ken joined them in Clervaux, it was thought to be a “quiet sector” with each division covering approximately 20 miles of the front. A USO program was planned for the troops but never happened. On December 16, 1944 the Germans began a last-ditch offensive which became known as The Battle of the Bulge. Ken and his regiment dug in parallel to the International Highway. Shelling began—and the fox hole next to Ken took a direct hit—killing both occupants. These first hours of combat were truly a trial by fire and the young soldier fought on, meeting every challenge set before him. Sharing a fox hole with his Sergeant and Squad Leader Mike Hopkins, Ken used his Browning automatic rifle and Sergeant Hopkins with an M-1 rifle responded, killing 103 German troops.
A detailed account of Ken’s service has been documented by fellow Tel Hai resident and Veterans Group member, Bob Thompson. The horrors of war became all too real for the young soldier from Coatesville, PA. On December 17 with the battle raging, Ken was hit by shrapnel. Battlefield treatment proved insufficient and he was transferred to a field hospital and later returned to the US. The Department of Defense records show the Battle of the Bulge to be the largest and costliest battle in terms of human life lost during WWII: 19,000 killed, 47,500 wounded and 23,000 captured or missing in action…a total of 89,500 American casualties.
Ken’s flight home landed him in a hospital at Indiantown Gap, PA—in time to celebrate his 18th birthday. For his service he was awarded the Purple Heart, the Combat Infantry Medal, the European Theater Medal and the Ardennes Battle Star and the WWII Victory Medal. After returning home he never talked about his war experiences. “I was trying to forget,” Ken admits. His story was finally shared during a November 2011 meeting of the Tel Hai Veterans Group—in the company of his “brothers in arms.”
Ken once again found joy—in music—playing with the “Criterions” of West Chester State College before joining Harry James’ band on the road for two years. He completed his degree and taught music through private lessons and the Paoli Music Studio for many years. Today he sees his students now leading bands and teaching the love of music to others.
Ken and his wife, Elaine have celebrated 28 years of marriage and enjoy a rich family life which includes six children, 12 grandchildren and 9 great-grandchildren (with new twin great-grandchildren soon to arrive!)