IN MEMORIAM: JOHN KEMPE WINSLOW, 1947-1969
Editor’s Note: K. Wayne Bunn recounted these boyhood memories at the rededication of Route 205 through Hartwick hamlet in honor of Marine Sgt. John Kempe Winslow Monday, Oct. 5.
During the 1950s, I grew up two houses from Sgt. John Kempe Winslow, known back then as Johnny, on South Street in the hamlet of Hartwick. He was one year younger than I was, and one year below me in school, but we became close friends at a very early age.
We both attended the former Hartwick High School, which after 1957 became the Hartwick Grade Center, and rode our bikes to school each day during the warmer months. During the summer vacations,
I spent most days with Johnny and our other close friends (Darrell Risley, Ken Tabor, Ron Hurtibise, Orlo Burch, etc.) doing what young kids did back then during the summer: We played backyard football, baseball, basketball, rode our bikes, Little League baseball, Boy Scouts, got into minor trouble, fished for trout in the Otego Creek, hiked, and pretended to hunt deer in the woods around Hartwick.
Some of the best times we had growing up were days spent swimming at “The Fly,” a large deep hole in the Otego Creek near the bridge on North Street, where we would change our clothes in the bushes.
Another favorite time was riding on the back of Ken Foster’s milk truck as he picked up milk from area farms and then riding on top of the milk cans along the conveyor line with rollers which led into the former Hartwick milk plant.
As we got older, I would spend many days with Johnny at the Winslow camp on Otsego Lake where we would swim, fish, canoe, camp out, and hike around the area. We remained friends throughout high school and rode the school bus to Cooperstown each day. He was a very talented wrestler and golfer at CCS and he played the accordion.
Johnny was just a great kid, liked by everyone – I do not recall anyone not liking Johnny. I left for college one year before Johnny did, so I did not see him as much after high school, especially after he joined the Marine Corps in 1965.
Johnny, like all Marines, was very proud to serve in the Marine Corps and serve his country. During his first tour of duty in Vietnam, Johnny was wounded in the leg and spent several months recuperating in a hospital on Long Island. I recall talking with Johnny when he was discharged from the hospital and spent some time at home before resuming his duties.
He received the Purple Heart for his wounds in combat.
For whatever reason, he wanted to return to Vietnam and serve a second tour – perhaps to support his fellow Marines – but he never told me why and I never saw him again after that day. I just know that he was a true Marine and loved the Marine Corps.
Johnny followed in the footsteps of a military family – his father served in the Army in World War II and his older brother Chet served in the Army in the early 1960s.
It was a very sad day for me in July of 1969 when our neighbor Ford Risley told me that Johnny had been killed in Vietnam – he was only 22 years old.
Unfortunately, he was killed by a misguided friendly air strike during a combat operation in Quang Tri Province. He was scheduled to return home and be discharged from the Marine Corps in August of 1969.
It was a very difficult time when my mother and I visited the Winslow family at their camp to express our sympathy – my mother was Johnny’s third-grade teacher. I was able to drive several members of Johnny’s family during the funeral service which followed. Johnny was always late when it came time to do anything and we always told him that he would be late to his own funeral.
In fact, he was – the detachment from the Marine Corps from Albany was late in getting to the Patterson Funeral Home in Hartwick before the church service in Cooperstown so the service was delayed until they arrived.
To this day, 51 years later, I still miss Johnny.
I have very fond memories of Johnny and the Winslow family because they were so good to me over the years. Johnny’s father, Chester J. Winslow, Jr. – also known as “Big Chet” – was an attorney in Hartwick and had a profound influence on me as I was growing up, including why I attended Syracuse University (his alma mater).
I wanted to be an attorney like “Big Chet” but I struggled with English, reading, and writing so I pursued a career as a civil engineer. It is interesting to note that “Big Chet” told me one time that he wanted to be a civil engineer but struggled with math and science.
I was so happy when I read in 2019 that a section of State Highway 205 in Hartwick was going to be named in honor of Sgt. John Kempe Winslow – 50 years after his death. What a great tribute to Sgt. John Kempe Winslow and his family, including his brother Mike and sister Maria who are here today.
A big “thank you” to the Hartwick American Legion Post 1567 for promoting this idea and, especially, to State Sen. Jim Seward and Assemblyman John Salka for sponsoring the bill that was passed by the State Legislature and signed by Governor Cuomo to so honor Sgt. John Kempe Winslow.
I am so proud to call Sgt. John Kempe Winslow my long-time friend and to be a part of this dedication.