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Former Senior Farmer to be featured on radio

For The Madera Tribune

Former Madera Chamber of Commerce Senior Farmer of the Year Kenneth Leach sits with his wife of 73 years, Bernice. Kenneth will be featured on KMJ 580 AM Hometown Heroes segment this weekend.


Madera US. Navy veteran Kenneth Leach will be featured Sunday on KMJ radio for its nationally syndicated program Hometown Heroes.

Leach, 95, is the 2015 Madera Chamber of Commerce Senior Farmer of the Year and has been a Madera resident since the 1930’s.

Leach’s segment will air at 6 p.m. on KMJ 580 AM and on KYNO 1430 AM at 9 a.m. Saturday and 5 p.m. Sunday.

He and his wife Bernice celebrated his 73rd wedding anniversary this year.

Below is an excerpt of a story that was published in the 2015 Senior Farmer of the Year special section.

Despite his chores, Ken still earned a varsity letter in track under coach Jess Markle and played basketball at Madera Union High School. He turned 18 in January his senior year and enlisted after receiving his draft notice in 1945. His brother followed him into the navy the following year, even though he was not yet 18. He had to get parental permission, Ken said.

“Our dad was in the army in France in World War l,” Leach said. “He told us to enlist in the navy because in the army you always had to sleep in the mud and the fleas. He once made a hammock out of a hog wire fence so he wouldn’t have to sleep in the mud and fleas. ‘Boys,’ Dad said, ‘don’t get in the army, go in the navy.’”

“I asked him what would happen if they sunk the ship. It would be a long way to swim,” Ken said.

And while his ship was in a wreck, it didn’t sink, he said. “Thanks to God we both made it back.”

Ken worked as a radioman aboard ship. He qualified for the position because of an elective typing class he had taken in his school. He learned to type 45 words per minute, which fit the navy requirements. After basic training he had six months training in radio school, he said. He spent his service sending and receiving encrypted messages by Morse Code.

He was on ship in the Sea of Japan when Truman dropped the atomic bomb. A few months later and after signing a non-liability waiver for the navy he visited the wreckage in Hiroshima, he said. One building remained standing, the post office. Cars were wrapped around trees and the city was in ashes.

“People don’t realize the devastation (it will cause) if those rebels get nuclear weapons, we are going to be in trouble,” he said.

As his military discharge drew close, he came home on leave to visit his parents. He found his father in the field harvesting 40 acres of Irish potatoes. With Ken still wearing his uniform, his father asked what his next plan would be.

“The navy offered to send me to Officers Candidate School and a job as a radio man if I reenlisted,” Ken said. “But a career in the military takes you too far away from your family.”

His dad told him as soon as the potatoes were all dug he would give him that 40 and the 60 acres of cotton next to it if he wanted to stay home and farm Ken said.

“I said ‘Dad where is the tractor?’” Ken said. “And that is how I got into farming.”


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