EDMONDS — A man who died protecting five of his fellow Marines during the war in Vietnam is to be honored today in Farmington, N.M.
The story of Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Kenneth Lee Worley, who flung himself on an exploding grenade and posthumously was awarded the Medal of Honor, isn’t clear. People who have researched his past have different takes on Worley’s biography. His original last name might not even be Worley.
What is certain, however, is that a group of people in Edmonds want to make sure Worley is never forgotten.
In front of the Edmonds Historical Museum is a 7-foot tall granite memorial dedicated to 79 war dead with ties to south Snohomish County. Worley’s name is among those engraved on the monument.
Well-known artist Michael Reagan, a member of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8870 in Edmonds, decided to add Worley’s picture to his Fallen Heroes portrait project. Reagan has drawn or painted about 3,500 portraits of U.S. military personnel who died in active duty.
“I decided I wanted people to see Kenneth’s face,” Reagan said. “Being a Vietnam veteran, I was bothered that not very many people were there when he was given the Medal of Honor.”
The portrait was first displayed at VFW 8870’s Memorial Day services a few years ago. From there, Reagan’s fellow VFW members decided the portrait needed to be sent to New Mexico, where Worley was born. They had help learning more about Worley from Betty Lou Gaeng, who had written about the Worley for a 2010 article in the Sno-Isle Genealogical Society’s magazine. The article was an excerpt from her book “Etched in Stone” about the Edmonds monument.
According to most accounts, including Gaeng’s and several others found online, Worley was born on April 27, 1948, in Farmington.
He was either abandoned or orphaned and by age 16 made his way to California to stay with an aunt and work as a truck driver. It didn’t work out, and after injuring his foot on the job, he was taken in by his girlfriend’s parents, Donald and Rosemary Feyerherm of Modesto. They treated him like a son.
Worley enlisted in the Marine Corps in June 1967. He trained in San Diego and Camp Pendleton, Calif., and was promoted to private first class. Sent to Vietnam, he was assigned as a rifleman to the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division. He was promoted to lance corporal less than a year after he joined the Marines. Killed Aug. 12, 1968, in Quang Nam Province, Worley is buried in Westminster Memorial Park, in Westminster, Calif., in a donated gravesite.
While Worley was in Vietnam, the Feyerherms moved to Edmonds and that’s where they were living when the family found out Worley, 20, had been killed.
The story goes that his foster parents and their daughter went to Washington, D.C., in 1970 to receive the Medal of Honor from Vice President Spiro Agnew. Some accounts have it that the daughter had given birth to a son by Worley and that the toddler, now Robert Murphy of Salem, Ore., was at the ceremony, too.
Worley’s story is the lead chapter in the book, “The Search For The Forgotten Thirty-Four: Honored by the U.S. Marines, Unheralded in Their Hometowns?” written by Terence Barrett, a North Dakota State University professor and former Marine.
In Farmington, Bruce Salisbury, a Korean War veteran, helped Barrett research Worley’s life for the book.
Long obsessed with honoring Worley, Salisbury is in charge of the event today. The Reagan portrait of the Medal of Honor winner will be unveiled and prepared to hang in a permanent exhibit at the Gateway Museum in Farmington, Salisbury said.
The ceremony is to include Marine Corps veterans and some of Worley’s family members, who Salisbury has tracked down over the years.
Meanwhile, in Edmonds, the artist plans to watch via the internet with the help of friends who plan to attend.
“My portrait project is a spiritual thing for me,” Reagan said. “So, I believe that Kenneth Lee Worley will be there in Farmington, too, finally welcomed home 45 years after he jumped on that grenade.”
Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; firstname.lastname@example.org.