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Dedicated veteran once honored with his ‘Day at Lackland’

By James Coburn and Alain M. Polynice | 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs | July 19, 2017

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas —

Family and friends gathered together at the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery July 19, 2017 to remember and say good-bye to retired Chief Master Sgt. Kenneth J. Slade, a highly decorated veteran of Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland who passed away July 8, 2017 at the age of 83.

Slade spent almost 70 years of his life, spanning seven decades, in service to the United States military, both as a service member and as an Air Force civilian.

His service to this nation was recognized in front of his family, friends and an entire basic military training graduating class November 15, 2002 when Slade was honored with “Kenneth J. Slade Day at Lackland.”

Brig. Gen. Fred Van Valkenburg, the 37th Training Wing commander at that time, was the one who recommended Slade be honored after hearing about his extraordinary military background.

Slade’s military life began at the age of 13 when he enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1947 using a fake birth certificate to enter military service. According to his official biography, Slade trained as a drill instructor and taught bayonet and judo to Marine recruits in San Diego, Calif. He was also a member of the Marine Corps Rifle Team that competed at the national level.

During the Korean War, Slade served many roles as a rifleman, a fire team leader, squad leader, platoon sergeant and even as acting platoon leader in below-freezing temperatures in the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, a decisive battle in the war.

Slade was wounded several times. Two days after his 17th birthday, Slade was awarded the Silver Star and his fourth Purple Heart.

He experienced more adversity during the war when he was captured in April 1953 and spent more than three months as a prisoner of war. In addition, the North Koreans broke all 10 of Slade’s toes. As a result of this, he ended up crawling through the triple-arched “Freedom Gate” at Panmunjom when he was finally released in August 1953.

Van Valkenburg praised Slade saying that in every era of our nation’s military it was the ordinary people who accomplished extraordinary tasks. He went on to highlight Slade’s years of exceptional service to the nation in the Marine Corps, the Air Force and as an Air Force civilian.

“That is why I thought it was imperative we hold ‘Ken Slade Day’ this close to Veterans Day,” Van Valkenburg said. “[Slade’s] an exceptional example of every American veteran.”

Slade was presented with a framed proclamation of the special day signed by then Gen. Don Cook, Air Education and Training Command commander.

When asked about his accomplishments listed in the proclamation that was read during the BMT graduation ceremony, Slade said, “It just kind of seems like it’s somebody else.”

Slade attributed family benefits more than anything else as the reason why he switched from the Marine Corps to the Air Force.

“Every year when I was in the Marine Corps, I was on the move without fail” said Slade. “The only stable tour, if you call it stable, was 3 1/2 years in Korea.”

Slade left the Marine Corps for the Air Force in1958, where he served until he retired February 1, 1980.

After serving on active duty for over 33 years, Slade worked as a logistics supervisor for Lackland lodging for more than 35 years.

Slade’s daughter, Lisa Pitre-Bishop, who attended her father’s funeral lovingly referred to Slade as her mentor and her rock.

“I owe my success in life direction to you and my Savior,” said Pitre-Bishop as she remembers her father. “Without a doubt I wouldn't be the women I am today without you.”

Slade is survived by his wife of 56 years, Geraldine, and his four adult children.