• “Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple. Dr. Suess

Wednesday, November 11, 2015


The Vietnam war is so highly controversial that even yet many veterans of that war are seldom honored. In 1982 a memorial to those that served their country in that war was erected in Washington D.C. It has become a cultural icon.

1982 dedication of Vietnam War Memorial

 History and its ongoing documentation diverges, sometimes does not perfectly agree as it evolves, and is readily found.

We choose to remember and honor the men and women patriots that made difficult choices in a difficult time, though historical controversy continues.

Ken Shelton circa 1967

One of those men, is Papa's first cousin Ken, the son of a brother (Herman) of Papa's mother, Katherine Shelton Ames. The Shelton family sent several cousins to Vietnam.

Ken's brother Dan Shelton served in the Air-force. Although he did not see active fighting he was transferred many places including Texas and Japan.
Robert (Bobby) Shelton,Third Class Ordnanceman front row: 2nd from left.
Taken at aircraft maintenance area (Sangley Point, PI) circa: early 1960s.
VNVP-40 Crew 3 flying P5M Marlin Seaplanes out of Sangley Point, PI,
Conson Island, VN, Kamron Bay, VN and the waters off Danang, VN

Their cousin Bobby Shelton served in the US Navy. He is the son of another brother to Katherine Shelton Ames, Gibb. Gibb was a World War II hero.
Robert Lee Shelton

We honor them all, but today we focus our gratitude toward Ken Shelton.

At Papa's request Ken agreed to be the subject for this 'guest post,' and came for lunch yesterday. Papa's transcription follows. Although Ken did share some of the atrocities and horrors of war we decided to not honor those. This is not to minimize in any way the magnitude of those events. Our choice is instead to focus on and honor Ken's resilience and enduring fortitude. Thank you Cousin Ken for your military service.

Many thanks to Ken's daughter Rachel, and his sister Patricia (Mike) Erdmann, for providing some pictures.
Papa: "I used to enjoy visiting my cousin Ken [Shelton] and listen to him tell stories about being a cook in the army. I called him up the other day and he agreed to come over and tell me some more stories. Some of the stories emphasize that war is a dangerous place to be and that soldiers have hard job to do. I appreciate hearing those stories. I thanked him for living through them. He also told me some stories which were a bit more humorous – stories which should be shared: 
The Fastest Bread-Cutter in the World
"Cousin Ken tells that in Vietnam the army had bakeries which would send bread out to the soldiers. The bread wasn’t sliced when they got it, 'so you had to slice all bread by hand.' It came in two foot long loaves. Ken claims that at home he cut bread so poorly that he would get in trouble for the way he did it. He could cut it no better in the army. The loaves had to be cut into army regulation half inch slices.

"His commander gave him the assignment to slice bread for 150 soldiers. Kens explained that he couldn’t cut bread but the commander told him that he was going to slice bread.
"Ken did slice the bread. It took him 3 hours. His commander came to him saying that the other cooks had reported that he had not helped cook at all. 'Well, I was slicing bread; I told you I couldn’t cut bread' 

“'Well, you will cut bread until you know how.'
"Ken returned to the task of cutting bread. While cutting he stopped and considered, 'Maybe it’s the knife.' He sharpened the knife so that 'it was so sharp it could slice through anything. It was so sharp I could shave with it.' He also reshaped it. With the sharpened, reshaped knife – and practice, he was finally able to slice bread for 150 men in six and a half minutes—the same amount of bread that had taken him 3 hours on the first try.

"After that, when Ken was cutting bread men would stop to watch. One day he saw the LDS chaplain (or non-denominational chaplain who happened to be LDS)* watching him. 'What are you doing here?' Ken asked. 

"'I came to watch you cut bread. They told me you were the fastest and it is true. You are the fastest bread cutter in the world.'

Ken Shelton 1967

Lighting the Stove.

"Cooking had its own challenges. Ken would get up at 3 am and prepared breakfast in the dark. He fueled up and pressurized the burners for the stove from the truck's compressors. When the burner was ready he stacked 5-gallon water cans two high around his stove and then he would lie on the ground to light the burner. The bright flash of yellow light from the flame could be seen for miles. He stayed on the ground until the flames got hotter and turned blue, then stuck the burner in the stove and started cooking biscuits. He says, 'Sometimes the men got biscuits for breakfast.' Ken explains that the blue light cannot be seen very far and he was safe until the sun started coming up and made a silhouette of him. It was usually at that time of day he would be shot at. Sometimes the enemy would shoot at him a couple times in a day, sometimes only once in a couple days.

"A fellow soldier, on the last day of his tour, was concerned that Ken had become too used to getting shot at. They were sitting on a water can talking. There were a bunch of 'four duces' (4.2 inch mortars) right behind his mess tent. 'They all fired in unison so you had no warning.... When those four duces went off his feet went about six inches off the ground.'

Vietnam era mortar

"Ken says when he settled down the soldier said, 'Oh that makes me really sad.' 

 “'Why's that?' asked Ken.  

“'Cause you’re not going to make it.  You didn’t even flinch.'  

“'That was outgoing,' explained Ken. 'When it’s incoming you've never seen anyone move as fast in your life as I’m going to move.”
“'No, you’re not going to make it,' answered the soldier.

"Later that night they were sitting on top of the captain’s bunker watching an air to ground fire fight on the next hill.  There were about seven helicopters in the air.  Ken said it was beautiful to see the tracer rounds going up and coming down.   He says, 'Immediately below this hill we were looking as a sniper shot at us…. We saw all the tracer rounds come out of his gun…. As soon as I saw the tracer rounds coming out of that guy’s barrel I started to roll to the left and down.'  He was already lying on the ground as a bullet went past the other soldier's head.   He landed on the ground next to Ken.  As soon as the adrenaline settled down enough for him to talk Ken asked, 'was that fast enough for ya’?'

“'I think you’re going to make it,' the other soldier replied.

"I guess he did.
"Thanks cousin.  You’re a hero!"

* The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) provides many resources to its members in military organizations. In May 2003 President Gordon B Hinckley provided counsel, comfort, and guidance to members about military service, in his talk "War and Peace." 


  1. Thanks Linda and David! That was awesome to read. We grew up with Dad's humorous stories of War. We'd request them over and over. Dad really is a hero!

  2. This is a treasure. Thank you for sharing.