Ken Pifke enlisted with the Marines right out of high school in 1942 with the intent to become a pilot.
But when his depth perception didn’t allow him to be trained as a pilot his skills were put to use in another very important way to help the war effort.
“I enlisted while I was senior in high school and I joined right after graduation in July 1942,” said Pifke, 99, of Lyndon. “I always wanted to be a Marine.”
“He really wanted to be a pilot, but he didn’t pass the depth perception test,” said Kris Bielema, his daughter.
When the Marine Corps saw that Pifke had metal working skills, he was deployed to the South Pacific to work at a base in New Hebrides.
“When they found out I had machine shop skills and could use a metal lathe they put me to work on repairs,” said the Elmwood Park, Illinois native. “My job was maintaining airplanes — wings, landing gear — whatever they needed.”
He remembers working on F4U Corsairs — a fighter plane, and the TBF Avenger — a torpedo bomber developed initially for the United States Navy and Marine Corps.
“The TBFs were a slower plane that had a lot of carrier power and that made them very vulnerable,” he said.
Pifke excelled at his job, becoming a Master Tech Sergeant at the age of 20. He served until December 1945, when he returned home to help his mom back in Elmwood Park.
“It was quite an experience,” he said remembering his service maintaining aircraft. “I met some wonderful people. I wanted to stay in, but my mom was a widow. My duty was to take care of mom.”
Pifke, who will celebrate his 100th birthday on Jan. 3, moved to Prophetstown in 1989 to be near his daughter, Kris, who had moved to Lyndon in 1987.
Pifke reflected on his time with the Marines as he carefully touched the medals and patches that grace his original Marine uniform that was on display at the Lyndon Area Historical Society’s Salute to Veterans on Sunday.
“I had a Marine dress uniform tailor-made for me, but I never got to wear it,” he recalled. “After I had it made, another Marine asked if he could wear it home and I let him borrow it and he never gave it back.”
Pifke was one of 80 veterans honored with displays of their service at the annual open house.
Each display included a short family history and background of the veteran as well as personal items such as basic training photos and orders to report.
In the sanctuary, “The Missing Man Table” was displayed honoring fallen, missing, or imprisoned military service members.
This year’s display honored Dennis Keith Eads, a Prophetstown pilot who remains on the Missing in Action List after his helicopter was shot down in South Vietnam on April 23, 1970.
The Lyndon Area Historical Society is located in the former Lyndon Congregational Church at 405 Fourth St.
Regular hours are from 1-3 p.m. Wednesdays. For more information, contact Bielema at 815-499-4015 or visit lyndonareahistoricalsociety.org.
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