Larry Kinard always knew the military would be his future and couldn’t join soon enough. In 1951, at age 17, he ran away from his Maple Street home in Charleston and fled to Columbia to try to enlist.
But he was a year too young at the time, and waiting for his next birthday wasn’t easy. Kinard explained how as a child his living conditions were poor.
“I lived in an old…shack across from Roper Hospital, drinking Kool-Aid and some shrimp that the shrimp place left over for me,” he said.
In 1952, Kinard successfully joined the Air Force and took on the patriotic duty of “air policeman.” He said he was selected for the particular role because of his tall stature. Today the position is known as “military police” or “security police.”
Eighteen-year-old Kinard was immediately shipped to Brooks Air Force Base in Texas for specialized training with the United States Air Force (USAF) Security Services before heading out to his first overseas assignment in Moriyama Compound in Japan.
Ironically, he said he picked the particular branch over the Army, thinking it would entail less front-line fighting. But Kinard soon discovered, after entering the Korean War, that wasn’t the case.
“I was reading about guys getting their hands tied and shot (in the Army), and I didn’t want to be one of them,” he said, “but I had no idea that they would stick me in a combat role as a policeman.”
However, Kinard laughed over his initial shock, after arriving in foreign territory, over the frigid weather.
“Me coming from Charleston—it was awfully cold,” he said.
Nearly daily, Kinard and his men braved the drastic temperatures—sometimes minus 40 degrees—along with the enemy’s incessant bombing. The sights and sounds of the explosive attacks not only became the norm but also often turned deadly.
“It was like…the Fourth of July all night,” Kinard said. “We were lucky enough one time to stay in a girls’ college, and they blew the roof off the school.”
While in the Northeastern Asian country, Kinard’s duties included protecting an espionage unit.
“(We had) radio operators that listened to the enemy frequency, and I setup the perimeter around the truck while they took the code,” Kinard said. “We had to usually be on the move when we could.”
Not a day passed that he wasn’t fearful of his surroundings.
“Every day I was afraid; I didn’t want to be around anybody that wasn’t afraid because then you (lose) your senses,” Kinard said. “I saw people die—that affected me quite a bit. I’ve seen planes go out on a fighter mission, come back in, get right at the end of the runway and all of a sudden, drop and crash. …I would see them crash or get shot at.”
It wasn’t until years later, when visiting his Veterans Affairs doctor, that Kinard learned the extent of his battle wounds—how they were more than just emotional scars. He said he discovered he had suffered at least two concussions during his 18 months in Korea.
“I don’t remember getting concussions, but I had two on my medical records,” Kinard said.
And it was the head trauma that most likely led to Kinard’s stoke in 2012, doctors told him.
Kinard reflected on the details of that scary day. He said he was at home on his computer when his left hand stopped working. While attempting to walk to his bedroom to lie down, he fell in the hallway.
“My grandson caught me and threw me in the bed and called EMS,” Kinard said.
The medical episode left him with bruises and stripped him of mobility in his left leg. Though confined to a motorized wheelchair, Kinard finds a silver lining in his situation. He said he’s thankful for how well Veterans Affairs has assisted him.
“The VA has been good to me,” Kinard said.
The agency built him a tile shower and a wheelchair ramp leading from his driveway to the front door.
After Korea, Kinard said he returned to Japan before heading back to the States and retiring from the military. The staff sergeant boasted two decades of service.
In the early 1970s Kinard moved to the Palmetto State and worked for a short season with the South Carolina Ports Authority as a bodyguard for the director of operations. Kinard then went to work for the U.S. Civil Service, stationed at Charleston AFB, as a military personnel specialist—revealing he preferred the “desk job” life more than his previous perilous assignments overseas.
“I processed all the guys going to Desert Shield and Desert Storm, took care of all their paperwork and emergency data,” Kinard said.
After 20 years with the Civil Service, Kinard retired for good—he and his wife moving to Summerville in 1998. They found a property for growing pears, figs, apples and other kinds of fruit. The rural retreat provides a peaceful setting for the couple. Diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, Kinard frequently encounters night terrors.
“I beat up my nice hand I don’t know how many nights—still got blood on my nightstand,” he said. “I used to wake up in the middle of the night, feeling (on my body) where I’d been hit.”
Also, for years Kinard dabbled in acting—starring as a Hollywood extra in multiple movies including “Forrest Gump,” his first gig, “The Notebook” and “Radio.” But it’s not his big screen roles Kinard’s most proud of; in addition to his two daughters, two grand-children and two-great-grandchildren, his favorite life achievement is one he recently received.
Over Christmas, Kinard unexpectedly got a knock at his door. More than 60 years after his war service, he held special recognition from South Korea. Kinard said he was shocked to open the mysterious delivery and inside find an “Ambassador for Peace” medal in his honor. Several other medals — many he said he can’t name — have been awarded him over the years. All are pinned to his green military jacket that hangs in his home.
And Kinard rarely leaves the house without wearing his black ball cap designating him as a veteran. Typically anonymously, people pay for his meal at restaurants or leave thank-you notes on his car. According to his wife, the moments never cease to impact him—Kinard often tearful over what he considers unnecessary praise.
“I didn’t do no more than what they would have done,” he said.
His advice for those considering a similar military career? The experience is life changing.
“It’d be the best thing that ever happen to you,” Kinard said. “You can read things in the newspaper, but when you see them or are a part of them, it’s a big difference.”