By Natalie Strom
Three wars and thirty years of service. This is the life of James “Bud” Kornse, Marco Island resident and military veteran. Born March 5, 1927, Bud spent 30 years in the Navy. After retiring, his contributions to his country still continued. From World War II, to the Korean War to Vietnam to the present day, Bud fought for freedom and veteran affairs on the battlefield and beyond.
Born and raised just outside of Atlantic City, New Jersey, Bud was the oldest of four. At the age of five, he began boxing at the local YMCA, where he picked up the nickname “Bud,” which has been with him ever since.
In 1944, at the age of 17, Bud enlisted in the military. “I had my dad sign me up. I said, ‘dad, they’re going to draft me in a year anyway, so I want to go now so I can pick what I want. He asked me what I wanted and I said, ‘I want the Navy, dad. That’s what I want.’”
That’s exactly what Bud got. He was sent to the United States Naval Training Center in Bainbridge, Maryland. Bud was among the first groups to go through training in Bainbridge, as it had only opened two years prior. “I got out of there, and the next thing I knew, they told me I was a part of the Amphibious Forces,” he adds. Made up of a group of warships, the Amphibious Forces were used in World War II to secure the islands in the South Pacific. “We had carriers, destroyers, transports, battle wagons, cruisers; there were so many ships out there. I remember we had something like 1,500 ships when we invaded the Philippines.” Overall, Bud spent 24 months with the Amphibious Forces in the South Pacific.
During World War II, “we went through the Gilberts, the Marshalls, the Marianas, Saipan, Guam, Timian, and the Philippines. There were so many that I can’t remember them all. Okinawa was our last invasion. That’s when we really knocked the hell out of ‘em. They already knew their days were numbered.”
World War II ended in August of 1945, but Bud and the Amphibious Forces continued to fight alongside Filipino forces to liberate the Philippines from Japanese rule. Bud and his fellow comrades also helped rebuild the Philippines after the war. A plaque of appreciation from the Government of the Philippines hangs on his wall to this day as a reminder of his service to their country.
Working as a radioman on two landing crafts during World War II, Bud decided to reenlist when the Korean War broke out in 1950. “I signed up for six more years,” he adds. “I spent 36 months off the coast of Korea on different aircraft carriers, basically until the war ended. Then after Korea, Vietnam comes along. I thought, ‘what did I reenlist for? Are they trying to get me killed?’ But I beat ‘em all! The good Lord must want me around for some reason.”
The Vietnam War began in 1955, one year before Bud’s service was to end. He was sent to Vietnam, where he did four tours, or about four years. Between Korea and Vietnam, Bud spent time on seven aircraft carriers: the USS Essex, USS Midway, USS Philippine Sea, USS Valley Forge, USS Kitty Hawk, USS Ranger and the USS Constellation. “I had a series of heart attacks because of the stress and the strain from the battles. The next thing I knew, they flew me into the Philippines, to Clark Air Base. I went from there to the San Diego Naval Hospital. From San Diego, they checked my records, and flew me to the Philadelphia Naval Hospital because that’s where I was from.
“The doctor told me my heart was too weak to be operated on and that I would be retired on disability. They put me out of the hospital, and there I was standing on the street corner. They dumped me on the street. That’s what happened to me. They just dumped me. So I called my sister in New Jersey and I said, ‘sis, come and get me.’ She and a friend drove down that day and I went back to New Jersey with them.
“During World War II, we were greeted warmly when we returned, but Vietnam was different. We were cursed. I had somebody splatter my place with red paint. They called us baby killers and spat on us. I was spit on too. We were treated horribly. Any of us that served in Vietnam, we were considered anything but patriotic. According to the people we were killers. But I only tried to do what I felt was right. I’ve been that way all my life.
“People don’t realize what we go through during the battles or war, but also what we go through when we come back. Today it’s different. People are starting to realize the importance of taking care of our veterans.”
After a number years volunteering at local schools in New Jersey, Bud decided he couldn’t take the cold anymore. He moved to Florida in the late 70s and has called it home for over thirty years. While in New Jersey and in Florida, Bud was a member of the Masonic Order, an organization based on service within communities. He became a Master Mason, working his way up to a 32nd degree Shriner.
He also got involved in local politics. “A friend of mine, Lou Schultz, who was a Veteran Service Officer for Collier County, convinced me to run for the Chairman of the Collier County Veteran’s Council. It was about 1991. I said I wasn’t qualified, but he said, ‘the hell you’re not! After thirty years in the military and three wars, I can’t think of anybody more qualified than you.’ So I ran and I held the position for two years.”
During his time as Chairman, Bud fought for the veterans of Collier County. At the time, the closest VA Hospital was in Ft. Myers. “I said, ‘this isn’t gonna work. So we called up our local Congressman at the time. We said, ‘we have over 40,000 veterans here in Collier County. We need a hospital. They called us back a few months later and said, ‘we couldn’t get you a hospital but we can get you a VA Clinic. Recently, I found out they finally have a Vet Center in Naples.” These centers retrain members of the military for civilian life.
“They didn’t have any of this when I came out of the service. I was lucky I had sense enough to go to my sister’s place. The government is finally doing right by its veterans, and they should. People are realizing if it wasn’t for the veterans, they wouldn’t have the jobs they have today or be secure and have the freedoms that they have. That’s my sentiments and I’m sure other veterans would feel the same.”
During his thirty years and three wars, Bud served on nine ships altogether; two landing crafts and seven aircraft carriers. “I don’t miss the combat, but I miss the camaraderie. You don’t have it like you do in military life. Out here it’s dog-eat-dog. You do for yourself or die, but it’s not like that in the military. We looked out for each other.”
Bud was forced to adjust to civilian life on his own. “I just did it. I made myself do it. But I’m glad to see that they have the VA Clinic and Vet Center here for the men and women coming home because they really need it. I really want to thank Lou Schultz and his wife, Louise, for all of their involvement. If it weren’t for them, our local Congressmen and all that were involved in the Collier County Veteran’s Council, we wouldn’t have the VA Clinic in Naples. I would also like to thank those who were a part of developing the Vet Center. To the doctors, nurses and office personnel who do an excellent job taking care of the veterans at the VA Clinic and Center in Naples, I also thank you. I’m not saying it was easy, but without the United States military, I would not have what I have today.”
Because of veterans like Bud, we can still call our country, “The Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.” To James “Bud” Kornse and to all the service men and women of the United States, Coastal Breeze News thanks you.