DECEMBER 20, 2013


MADISON, Wis. (Dec. 19, 2013) – When the Gruennert family of Jefferson, Wis. heard about The Wisconsin Veterans Museum’s new Medal of Honor display profiling the stories and medals of four Wisconsin veterans, they knew something was missing. It was the Medal of Honor of Kenneth E. Gruennert.

The Gruennert family donated the medal to The Wisconsin Veterans Museum in Madison. Much like the stories associated with the other medals on display, Gruennert’s showcases his bravery in the heat of an intense WWII battle. Unlike the other stories, his takes place on Christmas Eve. 

Gruennert left high school at the age of 16 to join the Wisconsin Army National Guard. The
Helenville resident attended Jefferson High School and was captain of the school’s championship football team.

On Christmas Eve 1942, Sgt. Gruennert was fighting the Japanese in The Battle of Buna in New Guinea. Gruennert was second in command of a platoon and tasked with advancing through enemy lines to reach a beach 600 yards away. When they came upon a Japanese bunker, Gruennert single-handedly attacked and silenced the enemy soldiers’ position with grenades and rifle fire. Although seriously wounded, he refused to withdraw to the aid station and leave his men. He then, under extremely heavy fire, attacked the second bunker with grenades, which forced the enemies out of their positions. He was shot and killed by a sniper immediately after. His bravery allowed his platoon to move forward, and successfully complete the mission.

Gruennert’s sacrifice on Christmas Eve was not forgotten. On Oct. 11, 1943, he was
posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. And though his family was invited by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to attend the ceremony, they politely declined, saying it was not in the best interest of the war effort and the money would be better spent on the troops. Gruennert’s father, Arthur Gruennert wrote,

“It is an honor which comes to possibly only one person in a thousand, but once in a lifetime and we would be very happy to accept under more normal conditions, and less
tragic circumstances. Under present conditions however… we believe every cent of the money subscribed should be used to supply our boys with the necessities of war and not spent for trips that do not directly help the war effort…please therefore convey our regrets to the President… and we will ever cherish and treasure [the medal and letter from the President] in the memory of our boy.“

That letter along with other correspondence, a letter written by a friend to the deceased Gruennert published in the Jefferson Banner, and more are part of the family donation to the museum.

The Wisconsin Veterans Museum in Madison is honored to share the story of Kenneth
E. Gruennert and the four other Medals of Honor on display as part of a new permanent collection. Gruennert’s medal can be viewed by appointment, and will be added to the exhibit soon.

The Wisconsin Veterans Museum is an educational activity of the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs and is located at 30 W. Mifflin St., across from the State Capitol.


201 West Washington Avenue | Madison, Wisconsin 53707
1-800-WIS-VETS | |