The Legacy of Kenneth B. K. Kozai
(Click on photo for larger image)

Kenneth B. K. Kozai (photo at age two) was born October 29, 1943 in Tokyo, Japan to Misato "Mimi" Kozai.  Ken's mother had been born and educated in the United States but at the age of 18 had moved to Japan with her parents, and due to the "American connection", her family was constantly watched by the Japanese secret police.  Soon after Ken was born, Mimi was divorced and upon the conclusion of WW II Mimi went to work in the Tokyo offices of the U.S. Far East Air Force.

Mimi met a young airman, Tom Heard, who had enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1941, left the service but remained in Japan where he sold life insurance while arranging for Mimi and Ken to come to the United States.  There was a snag however, Mimi was a U.S. citizen, but Ken wasn't due to his natural father being a Japanese national.  Tom Heard returned to the United States and, with the help of the Japanese American Citizens League, "walked" a bill through Congress which allowed Ken's admission to the United States.  Tom Heard greeted Mimi and Ken in San Francisco in 1952.  Later Ken became a naturalized U.S. citizen.  The Korean War prompted Ken's father to return to active duty with the Air Force and on July 1, 1955 Tom Heard married Mimi Kozai.

Ken, as other military dependents, lived in various locations to include the foreign countries of Guam (pictured with his mother and father) and Spain.  He attended high school in Omaha where his academic excellence provided a full Navy ROTC scholarship to the University of New Mexico.  It was at the UNM that Ken met Peter G. Chronis, later to become a staff writer with the Denver Post, who on the occasion of Memorial Day 1998 wrote an article for the Denver Post entitled "Family And A Friend Remember Vietnam Casualty."  It is from this article that the majority of this narrative has been extracted.

Ken's father reflected on his younger years: Ken always referred to me as "Dad", not as my stepfather.  That's the way we always were - Dad and Son.  I never considered him other than my son.  I say "stepson" now so that people will realize that he was pure Japanese by blood, but my deepest feelings - our deepest feelings - were that he was my son.  Growing up, Ken was just the best kid I ever met.  He was smart and funny, in fact, when he was 5 years old he acted as my interpreter in Japan.  The boy swam, played Little League baseball and had a passion for flying model airplanes.  Ken and I had a contract relative to the model airplanes, I would build them and he would wreck them, that's how it was.  He got the adventurous spirit from his mother.  Once in Spain we bought Ken a locally made 90cc Derbi motorcycle, and the youngster rode alone all the way from Madrid to the coast.  I still laugh about Ken's "poor Japanese boy" routine.  He would affect broken English pretending that he was totally helpless in the language, just so he could meet girls.

Peter G. Chronis reflects on Ken's college years: We rode motorcycles together.  Ken was utterly fearless on his black 650cc Triumph twin.  He handled his bike with great precision, making crisp, positive maneuvers, and leaning the machine way over on turns.  If the spirit moved him, he would jump a curb for a cross country shortcut through a park.  Keeping up could scare hell out of the devil and earned him the nickname of "Samurai Biker."  In retrospect, he had the kind of agility and good coordination required to make a good pilot.  Gregarious and a good conversationalist, Ken was also extremely hospitable, a good cook who served guests steak teriyaki, chicken yakitori and warmed snake.  In this quiet way, he taught friends about Japanese culture.

After graduating from the University of New Mexico, Ken worked  for the Omaha World-Herald newspaper until his induction into active service when he chose to be commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps.  While undergoing flight training at Pensacola, during the spring of 1968, he was designated as "student of the week" and this picture was part of the press release announcing the honor. 

Photo by, NAS Pensacola Photo Lab

Ken arrived in Vietnam on January 20, 1969, the same day President Richard M. Nixon was inaugurated, and joined the "White Knights" of HMM-165.  The Nixon Administration adopted a policy seeking to end U.S. involvement in the Republic of Vietnam either through negotiations or by turning the combat role over to the Vietnamese.  South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu had suggested, at the beginning of the year, that ARVN forces were "ready to replace part of the allied forces."  The Marine effort, to include the White Knights of HMM-165, in 1969 was aimed at destroying the NVA staging and assembly areas and lines of communication near the population centers of Dong Ha, Quang Tri, Da Nang and Quang Tri.  "The destruction of the enemy's command, control and logistic facilities will contribute to his eventual defeat."  Nixon's troop withdrawal plan began on 14 Jul with BLT 1/9 leaving for Okinawa.  One month later Ken and the "White Knights" of HMM-165 were aboard the USS Valley Forge, headed out of harms way to Okinawa, as the first 1st Marine Aircraft Wing unit to depart Vietnam under Nixon's Vietnamization program.  Ken had served six days less than seven months in Vietnam.

On the morning of 17 August Ken had manned his aircraft on the flight deck of the USS Valley Forge, or the "Happy Valley" as some called her, in preparation to offload the squadron to MCAS Futima.  Ken was boldly displaying his heritage with the traditional Samurai Warrior head band as he waited for the command to start engines.  The head band had become Ken's trade mark when flying combat missions in Vietnam.  John Dullighan, a Boeing Technical Representative to HMM-165, who took the picture of Ken on the "Happy Valley" provides his memories of Ken.

I remember Ken quite well.  He was hard to forget, always doing the wildest things, like throwing a bunch of firecrackers behind a bunch of us, in a side street in Futema, the night we arrived.  We were on a 'cultural' inspection of the museums in 'the ville.'  The firecrackers sounded just like small arms fire, especially in the confined space.  We all dived for cover, instinctively, and came up covered in mud and dust to see Ken laughing his head off.  When we got over the overpowering urge to strangle him, it seemed pretty funny.  Okinawa seemed a paradise after Vietnam.

It is my understanding, though I don't know for sure, that Ken volunteered to return to Vietnam.   (I know I told my Mother I was ordered to do many of  the things I volunteered for.  "They made me do it, Mom.")  I know he was bored in Okinawa, he considered the restrictions to be stupid, how can you train properly if you don't train like you fight.

Ken returned to Vietnam in either late October or early November and was assigned to HMM-364.  Shortly thereafter he was subjected to a rigorous check ride administered by LtCol. Dunbaugh, the squadron's commanding officer, who found him totally capable of serving the "Purple Foxes" as an aircraft commander.  On Saturday,  November 29, 1969 Ken was the pilot of a medical evacuation mission tasked with evacuating a seriously wounded Marine somewhere south of LZ Ross.  The crash of YK-9 was the result of the failure of the synchronization shaft running between the forward and aft transmissions.  This allowed the intermeshing rotor blades to make contact with each other shearing them off while the aircraft was in flight.  The total destruction of the aircraft made it extremely difficult to determine if the synchronization shaft failure was due to direct enemy action or simply a mechanical failure.  When the wreckage was returned to Marble Mountain Air Facility, the squadron's Executive Officer, Major Jack Pipa, spent hours examining the wreckage and determined a 50cal (or Russian 51cal) round had entered the bottom of the aircraft, continued through the radio cabinet behind the cockpit and then striking the synchronization shaft causing it to fail.

Recovery crew at the crash site, and Ken plus six others take final CH-46 ride to Da Nang.

John Dullighan's memories continue:  I also remember how proud Ken was of his Japanese heritage, still not the most popular of stances at the time.  Ken couldn't have cared less and took any chance he could to explain Japan to the rest of us.  It was a sad moment for us when we heard he had been killed, possibly a "blue on blue or friendly fire" incident.  I would not have been surprised that he was killed, given the way he aggressively flew the aircraft.  He could fly a "buttonhook" approach tighter than anyone I ever flew with.  But it seemed ironic that he, of all people, was shot down by "friendly fire" which was the rumor in circulation at the time.  But at the time I supposed it didn't really matter, you are just as dead and you were serving your country, either way.  I have very fond memories of Ken, he was an unforgetable charachter and I was very sad when he was killed, as were others in HMM-165.  I understand now that it was not "friendly fire" that brought the aircraft down.  There was a flurry of activity from Boeing, since they were concerned that the "de-sync" could have been caused by a transmission problem but they found the transmissions to be intact.  There had never been any problems, before or since, with the transmission shaft.

The last time Ken talked to his parents was in October of 1969.  He was in Okinawa and had informed his parents that he had decided to go back to Vietnam.  "He told us he really wanted to go back," Mr. Heard said, "I often kick myself for not trying to talk him out of it."  A few weeks later, Ken's ex-wife called  Heard at work to tell him Ken had died.  "So I drove home and told my wife, and she just collapsed," Heard said.  "The bottom just fell out for me."  Ken's body was taken to Arlington National Cemetery and buried in a plot that Mr. Heard, a retired Air Force captain, had reserved for himself and his wife Mimi.

On or about May 30, 1970, Ken's name was added to a memorial, in the Fairmount Cemetery honoring all Nisie or Japanese Americans who were born in the U.S. and gave their lives defending our country.  However, Ken was actually an Issei, pure Japanese born in Japan.  Fairmount Cemetery is located in Denver, Colorado.  Ken's mother, Mimi, is pictured below next to the monument  which displays his name as the last entry.

Misato Kozai "Mimi" Heard died on July 1, 1994 and was cremated.  Tom Heard made the proper arrangements with Arlington National Cemetery and on October 28, 1994 the obverse side of Ken's gravestone had been engraved with his mother's name and her ashes were laid to rest with her son.  The inscription on her memorial funeral brochure stated, " . . . and we are now truly together again for eternity; my beloved son, KENNETH B. K. KOZAI, 1st Lt., USMC, and me  . . ."

                      Mimi Heard              Tom Heard and Mimi's Internment
The Denver Post article of May 25, 1998 continues;  Ken had two children from a previous marriage, Tom the eldest, and Travis who is one year younger.

Travis, a police officer in Chandler, Arizona related, "I never knew my dad.  Everything I knew about him I learned from my grandparents and my mother.  As a child I dreamed about him all the time.  What I wanted to be was a pilot which didn't actually work out, but I always had that military desire - patriotism, I guess.  He had quite a bit to do with that.  I knew that my father had died in Vietnam and that he was a hard charger.  The thing I admire most about him was his never-ending spirit.  His 'do everything he could possibly do' attitude.  It was tough growing up without a dad, I wish every day he had been there, just for guidance and whatnot.  I'd give anything to sit down and talk to him for an hour.  On special days, such as Memorial Day, Veterans Day and dad's birthday, I contemplate what might have been.

Like his father, Travis once rode motorcycles, he still owns the one his father rode in Spain and pictured above.  Travis also served seven years with the Navy as a radar operator.

Tom, who works for an Olive Garden restaurant in Albuquerque, New Mexico related, "After Mimi's death Travis and I received some of dad's personal items.  We read his flight logs and found out he had been shot down twice and accounts of how he walked back through the jungle at night.  I've often tried to imagine what dad was like, I look at my brother and myself, and the things we do, and think they're kind of like the things he did.  Now, as I look back on my childhood, I know there was definitely something missing.  I didn't notice it back then.

A Rubbing of "The Wall" Panel 15W - Row 005

 Kenneth B. K. Kozai's life went full cycle, beginning and ending in Asia.

Information provided by:
    Peter G. Chronis, Staff Writer for the Denver Post
    Denver Post edition of May 25, 1998
    John Dullighan, former Being Tech. Rep. to HMM-165
    Kathleen Phillips, Kenneth Kozai's former wife
    Charles R. "Chuck" Dunbaugh, LtCol. USMC (Ret)
    Franklin A. "Uncle Frank" Gulledge, Jr., Maj. USMC (Ret)

Images provided by:
    Denver Post edition of May 25, 1990;
        a.    Ken Kozai at age two
        b.    Ken Kozai with his parents in Guam
        c.    A Rubbing of "The Wall" Panel 15W - Row 005
    Kathleen Phillips;
        a.    Ken Kozai and his 90cc Derbi motorcycle
        b.    Ken Kozai (bare chested) at Marble Mountain Air Facility
        c.    Ken Kozai's tombstone at Arlington National Cemetary
        d.    Mimi Kozai Heard at veterans memorial
        e.    Tom Heard and Mimi's internment
    John Dullighan;
        a.    Ken Kozai manning aircraft aboard the USS Valley Forge
    Franklin A. Gulledge, Jr.;
        a.    Pictures of the YK-9 crash site (4)


Back Browser  or  Home