Growing up in the St. James area, Ken Stradtman was exposed to music from an early age. Little did he know the impact it would have on him as he served his country.
Stradtman, who has lived his entire life in the same community, graduated from St. James and then started doing some odd jobs around the area.
Then, in 1953, he enlisted.
“I knew I was going to get drafted,” said Stradtman, 86, from his St. James home. “I figured if I enlisted I could just get it over with.”
While Stradtman had considered the Air Force, he ultimately signed up to be part of the U.S. Army simply because the time he would have to serve was shorter – two years instead of four.
Stradtman loaded onto a bus with other locals and headed west to Sioux Falls where he was inducted into the Army.
“We stopped at every town from St. James to Sioux Falls,” said Stradtman. “By the time we got there the bus was full.”
From South Dakota, Stradtman went to Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri where he spent eight weeks in basic training.
“It was summer, and it was hot,” said Stradtman.
Completing his initial military instruction, Stradtman was then sent to Fort Belvoir in Virginia to learn the basics of combat engineering.
While Stradtman initially was looking to go to officer candidate school, he soon opted out of that and was trained in heating and ventilation.
“Then they sent me to Korea,” Stradtman said.
Stradtman sailed on, what he called, a dependents ship, the General William Darby, with the families of officers, adding it took 11 days for them to cross the Pacific Ocean. He landed at Incheon and spent the next 14 months in the area around Seoul.
Stradtman said there was not much call for his heating and ventilation services, adding one of his commanding officers asked him if he planned on spending his time opening the flaps on tents, and so they needed a task for Stradtman to perform.
This is where that time he spent playing music with his dad was put to good use, as Stradtman joined the special services.
In essence, said Stradtman, his role was in entertainment, all in an effort to help boost troop morale.
Whether that was coordinating USO shows or performing in the officer’s club with his band, the Musical Moods, Stradtman served his country by making others who were serving happy.
“It was a neat job,” said Stradtman, who said it also involved bringing in and showing movies on a regular basis.
“I was part of a small outfit,” said Stradtman, adding there were 50 officers and 50 enlisted men as part of a headquarters company in a suburb of Seoul.
In the 50s, Stradtman said Korea was very primitive, adding there was not a lot for troops to do, which made the entertainment so popular among those who were serving in Korea.
“We even had some Korean entertainment,” said Stradtman, adding they were really not too picky.
Stradtman also would be called on for guard duty to ensure the locations around the base where he served were safe and even though he was not in an actual combat zone he carried a pistol with him at all times.
Stradtman said the time he spent in Korea followed the official end of the war, adding, however, it was still considered a combat zone. He is a Korean War veteran.
After spending more than a year in Korea, Stradtman was sent home in 1955. That trip, he said, took 17 days.
While Stradtman could have lived anywhere, he opted to come back to his hometown, and there he spent a lifetime raising a family and farming.
“It has been a pretty good life,” said Stradtman, who retired a number of years ago.
For Stradtman, the opportunity to serve his country was one he talks about with pride, adding he considers it a very positive part of his life. He joined the VFW in St. James and was very active in that veterans organization for years. He was also a member of the American Legion.
Through the GI bill, Stradtman, who had some experience flying planes before he served his country, was able to get his flight ratings and spent many years flying charter planes. It was at age 85 that Stradtman gave up flying, adding a back injury was making it hard for him to fly. Otherwise, he added, he probably would still be doing it.
Ken and his wife, Eileen, have been married for 63 years, and they have three daughters, Karen, Renee and Lori.
Overall, Stradtman called his experience in the U.S. Army “fantastic.”
“A lot of things have happened in my life because of my time in the Army,” said Stradtman. Stradtman continued to perform after coming home, and he had his own band, the Country Chords, performing in locations around St. James for years. He still does some singing now and then, but, for the most part, has retired from that, too.
Life has been good for Stradtman, adding, when considering the past 86-plus years, he would not change a thing.