The 35th Infantry Regiment Association salutes our fallen brother, PV2 Billie Gene Kanell, RA17317531, who died in the service of his country on September 7th, 1951 in the vicinity of Pyongyang, North Korea. The cause of death was listed as KIA. At the time of his death Billie was 20 years of age. He was from Poplar Bluff, Missouri. Billie's Military Occupation Specialty was 4745-Light Weapons Infantryman.
The decorations earned by PV2 Billie Gene Kanell include: the Combat Infantryman Badge, the Medal of Honor, the Purple Heart, the National Defense Service Medal, the Korean Service Medal, the United Nations Korea Service Medal, and the Republic of Korea War Service Medal.
MEDAL OF HONOR
General Order No. 57, 13 June 1952.
Citation: Pvt. Kanell, a member of Company I, distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry and outstanding courage above and beyond the call of duty in action against the enemy. A numerically superior hostile force had launched a fanatical assault against friendly positions, supported by mortar and artillery fire, when Pvt. Kanell stood in his emplacement exposed to enemy observation and action and delivered accurate fire into the ranks of the assailants. An enemy grenade was hurled into his emplacement and Pvt. Kanell threw himself upon the grenade, absorbing the blast with his body to protect 2 of his comrades from serious injury and possible death. A few seconds later another grenade was thrown into the emplacement and, although seriously wounded by the first missile, he summoned his waning strength to roll toward the second grenade and used his body as a shield to again protect his comrades. He was mortally wounded as a result of his heroic actions. His indomitable courage, sustained fortitude against overwhelming odds, and gallant self-sacrifice reflect the highest credit upon himself, the infantry, and the U.S. Army.
Sister Recalls Too-Short Life Of A Brother Who Did "Whatever He Could To Save His Friends"
By Bethanne Kelly Patrick
Army Pvt. Billie Gene Kanell's life was "short all around," as his sister Betty Pruitt puts it. He left their hometown of Poplar Bluff, Mo., as a teenager, celebrated his 20th birthday at an army post in Hawaii, and 11 days later charged up a hill in Korea under severe fire. On that 11th day, too, Kanell's actions would merit the Medal of Honor -- and he would be mortally wounded.
In order to understand Kanell's heroism on Sept. 7, 1951, one need look no further than his upbringing. As the second son in a family of nine children, "Billie was basically an 'old mother hen,' " says Pruitt. "He was always checking our bicycle wheels and bandaging our knees. I think he had a natural instinct to protect people -- and that's why he did what he did."
The 25th Infantry Division arrived in Korea and immediately saw action. Kanell was in Company I of the 35th Regiment, a rifleman among many others. He hadn't thought twice about leaving his job as a tree surgeon to enlist; his father had served 20 years in the Army, his older brother had enlisted in the Army, and another brother in the Air Force (later, two younger brothers served in the Army during Vietnam). Service came as naturally as breathing, and so did handling weapons; all of the Kanell children learned to shoot early and well.
Kanell's early marksmanship must have helped on that September day as he "stood in his emplacement ... and delivered accurate fire into the ranks of the assailants." Just then, one of the enemy threw a grenade into the bunker, and Kanell threw himself on top of it to protect two comrades.
A few seconds after Kanell absorbed the first grenade's blast, another grenade landed in the American emplacement. He was gravely wounded, but "summoned his waning strength to roll toward the second grenade and used his body as a shield to again protect his comrades."
Earlier this year, Pruitt and her family were contacted by one of the men her brother saved 49 years ago -- Stephen Mullan, who on Veterans Day rode in New York's "Nation's Parade" in honor of Billie Kanell. "We had so many questions for [Mullen] about Billie's last moments," Pruitt said. "Billie was always very caring. He had a real big heart. We knew he'd want to do whatever he could to save his friends."
Perhaps in his last moments Kanell thought of his large family, whose stack of letters written every day reminded him of his place in the world.
Billie is buried in the Fairdealing Cemetery in Fairdealing, MO. Fairdealing is located about 10 miles southwest of Poplar Bluff.