Community remembers veteran Don Kengerski

By David Fleet
Brandon Twp. — From a foxhole in North Korea to the remote forests of Ontonagon County to Brandon Township, the life of Don Kengerski embraced patriotism, sportsmanship and love of family.
Kengerski, a Brandon Township resident for more than 50 years, died March 9, 2024.
He was 93.
“Dad took tremendous pride in his service to his country which he carried with him for a lifetime,” said Ed Kengerski, the youngest of five children. “My dad was very devoted to his family and worked hard to instill a work ethic, faith along with principles.”
Don along with wife Margaret of more than 66 years raised five children in the community and was active and a charter member of the Ortonville VFW Post 582 forming in 1984 where he served as post commander for 19 years before stepping down in 2013.
A Minnesota native, Kengerski entered the U.S. Army in March 1951 and served in combat in the North Korean countryside as a 21-year-old machine-gunner in M-Company, 32nd infantry regiment of the 7th Infantry Division.
“Mass confusion and terrifying,” said Kengerski, in a 2007 interview with The Citizen when he described the chaos of a battlefield in early 1952 near the cities of Chorwon, Kumwha and Pyongyang, designated as the Iron Triangle near the border of North and South Korea.
“You never get to know anyone very well,” he said. “You’re moving all the time. Men are scattered everywhere on a battlefield, no one clusters together, and we live and sleep in foxholes.”
He received 38 pieces of shrapnel in an August 1952 skirmish, but continued his duty in North Korea.
Kengerski returned to the United States and was discharged on March 5, 1954. He received the Purple Heart and Silver Star medals.
Kengerski first joined the Veterans of Foreign Wars in 1954, soon after his discharge from the Army when he lived in Wisconsin. Margaret joined him later in Brandon Township.
“When the post was formed in 1984 there were a total of 21 Korean War veterans,” said Dennis Hoffman, Ortonville VFW post commander. “With the passing of Don there’s just one Korean War Veteran remaining in the post. Often the Korean War veterans were overshadowed since they were on the coattails of World War II. That’s why many of the Korean War Veterans were not recognized as part of the Greatest Generation.”
“Don was my mentor to be post commander after he stepped down,” said Hoffman. “He trained me and helped keep this post active. Don was a great citizen and supporter of veterans.”
According to the Pew Research Center, around 767,000 veterans who served during the Korean conflict in the 1940s and 1950s are alive today. One projection has the Korean War Veteran population falling below 200,000 by 2030.
In addition to serving his country, for more than 55 years, Kengerski, along with family and friends, had ventured to a remote area in the Western Upper Peninsula for the firearm deer hunting season.
For a week, Kengerski and his hunting partners will live in a 14-by-18 foot canvas tent dining on turkey, sauerkraut, and other hearty deer camp food. When the provisions get low, the group peels potatoes and has to prepare meals.
“I started deer hunting in the mid-1940s and have missed only a few seasons,” said Kengerski, during a 2008 interview with The Citizen. “Our deer camps are all about deer hunting. Hunters today are getting away from the ethics of hunting. I believe in fair chase, we never use a deer tree stand or bait for deer for that matter. We need to hunt deer on their own turf and learn their habits. They are very smart animals.”
Some hunting seasons Kengerski and his group have had five bucks hanging up on the second day of the season. Still, other hunting seasons produced no deer not even a doe, he added.
“When we started hunting up near the Ontonagon River, part of Highway 28 was dirt and we’d have to wait 15 hours along US-27 to cross the Mackinac Straits on a ferry before the bridge was built,” he said. “It’s beautiful hunting up there.”

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