At the Chosin Reservoir, Robert Kennemore Stepped On Two Grenades to Save His Marines

A Marine faces an Explosion in Korea

War is full of the actions of brave men launching themselves onto explosives to save their fellow soldiers. A grenade thrown into a trench could be particularly devastating. Some chose to jump on it. A few tried to cover it with their helmets while others threw their bodies over their friends. Whatever method they may have used their tremendous courage almost always lead to the awarding of the nation’s highest military honor.

Such men have 3 to 5 seconds to make a decision. In the snowy mountains of Korea, Marine Robert Kennemore was faced with such a dilemma when three grenades landed in his trench in rapid succession.  He placed his left foot on one grenade, his right knee on another, and was seconds away from a painful sacrifice for his fellow Marines. For his actions that day, Robert Kennemore received the Medal of Honor and joined the ranks of those who did the inexplicable to save their comrades.

From Guadalcanal to Korea

Robert Kennemore was born in 1920 in Greenville, South Carolina. He felt it was his duty to enlist in the United States Marine Corps in 1940 as the clouds of war began to drift towards American shores.  In July 1942, Kennemore sailed for the Pacific Theater along with the rest of the 1st Marine Division.  It was there he got his first taste of action during the turning point campaign at Guadalcanal.

Marines resting on Guadalcanal
Marines resting on Guadalcanal

After seeing heavy action during the Guadalcanal-Tulagi campaign, Kennemore seemed to have drawn the lucky straw and was sent back stateside. He spent the majority of the remainder of the war in various duty stations stateside. He stayed in the Marines after the war and apart from a brief stint of occupation duty in Japan he remained in the United States until 1950.

When the North Koreans initiated war with South Korea, Kennemore was serving with 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division at Camp Lejeune. In September 1950 he embarked for Korea and his second war.  He had not seen action since Guadalcanal in 1943 but was thrust back into the fray during the second battle for Seoul.  However, his rendezvous with history would have to wait for the famed battle of the Chosin Reservoir.

The Frozen Chosin

On the evening of November 27, the Chinese and North Koreans threw what could easily be considered the worst surprise party ever for UN forces. Over 100,000 aggressive and fanatical enemy forces launched a series of surprise attacks designed to envelop and destroy the broader UN force.

The battle took place over thirteen days during the brutal winter which led to the Marines adopting the nickname, the Frozen Chosin.  Embracing the fight ahead of them, when famed Marine General Chesty Puller was informed they were surrounded he is reported to have said, “Good, now we can attack in any direction.”

Marines fighting in the frozen hills near the Chosin Reservoir
Marines fighting in the frozen hills near the Chosin Reservoir

For Kennemore, this would place him in a position to take on the brunt of the assaulting force.  Just north of Yudam-ni, he was serving as the leader of a machine gun section in Company E 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines. His platoon commander had been severely wounded, and as Staff Sergeant, he was responsible for organizing their defense.  He consolidated his men during the vicious night assault, and they began to stand their ground against a numerically superior enemy force.  He was fighting in a slit trench with two other Marines when three grenades changed his future forever.

The Cost of Gallantry

The first grenade landed, and with a reflex action, he grabbed it and lobbed it back at the enemy.  As he was doing so, another grenade landed.  With only seconds to decide what to do, he placed his foot on the grenade and attempted to drive it into the ground when he saw yet another grenade land.  Without hesitation, he kneeled down upon the second grenade and braced for the worst. The grenades exploded almost simultaneously throwing Kennemore into the air as he absorbed the bulk of the blast. He had saved his fellow Marines from serious injury or death.

Chinese troops assaulting the Chosin Reservoir.
Chinese troops assaulting the Chosin Reservoir.

Remarkably, Kennemore was still alive, but his legs were severely damaged. However, his resolve to fight and live on remained intact.  For his actions, that day Robert Kennemore received the nation’s highest military honor and the eternal gratitude of the two Marines fighting beside him in that frozen trench near the Chosin Reservoir. He later died in 1989 a Veteran of two wars and the occupant of a hallowed place in military history.

Jeff Edwards

Jeff Edwards is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE