Ken Dean 


Cullum No. 24224-1962 | April 20, 1965 | Died in Binh Dinh Province, South Vietnam

Interred in West Point Cemetery, NY

Kenneth Lee Dean Jr. will be remembered by those of us fortunate enough to have known him and served with him as a soldier’s soldier, an Infantry officer’s leader, and a true patriot. He was, and his memory remains, the embodiment of what has established our Alma Mater’s reputation as the finest leadership institution in the world.

A resident of the Buckeye state, Ken was born in Englewood, NJ, on Aug 15, 1937, but grew up in Cleveland, OH. The only son of Eva Finley Dean and Kenneth Lee Dean, he came to West Point  by way of John Marshall High School, Fenn College in Cleveland, the Ohio National Guard, and the United States Army. He received a congressional appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy, not once but twice, from Michael A. Feighan of the 20th District of Ohio. Ken chose not to accept either Annapolis appointment, preferring to wait for a West Point opportunity. Congressman Feighan provided that opportunity in early 1958.

During his pre-West Point military service he became a paratrooper and used his jump qualification to participate in the Parachute Club and to compete on the Parachute Team while at the Academy. Ken also played B Squad Football for two years, joined almost every club available (perhaps the trips off campus had something to do with his avid participation) and was active in the debate council and forum. His favorite phonograph record while at school was “I’m just a dogface soldier with a rifle on my shoulder,” indicative of his chosen career pattern.

“Donuts Dean” spent countless hours cruising around The Plain on Sunday afternoons and became so adept at this pursuit that with a simple hitchhike gesture using his super talented thumb, he managed to entice Sheila, his bride to be, to stop the vehicle she was driving and allow Ken and roommate Howard Batt to get on board. The rest is history; Ken courted her and somehow convinced Sheila to marry him. At their wedding, the best man and classmate, the late Jim Andress, responded to the request for the wedding ring with a box containing a miniature donut. After graduation and their wedding, the couple set off on a cross-country automobile trip that finally terminated after several weeks, back in the east at Fort Benning. Already jump qualified, Ken finished his stay at the Infantry School after completing officer’s basic and Ranger training and arrived earlier than most of us at our first duty station, the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell. He joined the 501st, the same unit he had served with as an enlisted man.

The writer recalls the fun times with the Deans at Campbell. We lived on either side of a two family unit in government housing. Although in different infantry battalions we spent countless hours after work sitting around in fatigue trousers, jump boots, and t-shirts drinking beer, complaining about our bosses and laughing about those funny things that accent a young officer’s life. Our two families shared cut rate meals, trips to the Officer’s Club, and Army Navy games.

Shortly before his deployment overseas, Sheila and Ken were blessed with a baby boy, Charlie, with whom Ken was destined to spend far too little time. We left for Vietnam a few months apart. Upon leaving, Ken received a letter of appreciation from his battalion commander which said in part, “Your unfailing attention to duty has produced a unit which is combat ready, well disciplined, and which displays admirable morale and esprit de corps. This can only be attributed to your leadership and performance of duty; qualities which have earned you the admiration and respect of the entire battalion.”

Ken was assigned as an advisor to an ARVN infantry unit and immersed himself in his new assignment. He was an active participant in ground operations in what had become one of the most heavily contested provinces in the Republic of Vietnam. While helping a wounded Vietnamese soldier, a small arms round ended Ken’s promising career on April 20, 1965, in the vicinity of Phu Cat, Binh Dinh province. David Phillips, a classmate and companymate echoed the feelings of many of us when he wrote of Ken in our 50th Reunion booklet “The four years I knew him, I admired him for his maturity and anticipation for his career as an infantry officer. Gone far too soon.” A soldier serving with Ken at the time of his death described him as “a leader who led by example, out front, giving his all.” His nephew described him as “My Uncle, My Hero” and remembers him as not only a member of his family but also a man he looked up to and strove to emulate. He fondly recalls as a young boy, the miniature uniform that his uncle had made for him, complete with jump wings and a Ranger tab. He has that uniform today.

For Ken, “a Soldier’s resting place” is the cemetery at West Point. His funeral and burial were officiated by a high school classmate and longtime friend, the Reverend Jack Elstad, who spent an evening with the Deans shortly before Ken left for Vietnam.

We can only imagine the successful career Ken would have enjoyed had he been blessed with more time and additional opportunities to fully utilize his many leadership skills. His legacy is the memories that we share and the profound influence he had and continues to have on so many lives. “I am the Infantry, Follow Me.”

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