LAWTON, Iowa (KCAU) — From movie projector to roller rink builder, Navy veteran Kenneth Berke did a number of interesting jobs as an electrician’s mate.
“First thing you had to do was jump off this tower, probably wasn’t that tall, probably 12-15 feet, something like that, you know, into the water that was burning,” Berke said.
The literal trial by fire was one of many tests Berke looks back on with a sense of humor.
“There was a guy walking along beside you, and if you didn’t do it right, you got smacked on the head with a stick,” said Berke.
Born and raised in Siouxland, Berke enlisted in the Navy straight out of high school, becoming an electrician’s mate.
“Most of the power on the ship was 220 or 440, and if you got a hold of that, it would throw you away from it,” said Berke.
Something he still gets a laugh out of from time to time, and all because of one question he missed on his entrance exam.
“The question I missed was how many volts in a flashlight battery,” Berke said.
However, that wrong answer didn’t stop Berke from carefully inspecting gauges on the hour every hour.
“Make a tour around the engine room, then you’d bring back the sheet and you could tell if there was a problem some place,” said Berke.
Berke also helped chase space capsules after splashdown.
“We had stuff on board to throw this flotation collar on the capsule in case it landed by us,” Berke said.
Berke climbed the ranks, becoming an E-5. His work helping his ship earned him the recognition of best in his squadron.
“They had different colored E’s, and they put these E’s on the smokestacks so the other ships could see how good you were at these types of things you know, if you were excellent in all the deals, you got to have a gold E and put it up there, and we had one once,” said Berke.
Berke would sail through the Mediterranean, the Red Sea, and the Persian Gulf during his career, but a trip much closer to home also stands out in his memory, too.
“The ship was also good enough, we got to go to President Kennedy’s inauguration. That was kinda neat,” recalled Berke.