His legend will live on, but Rear Adm. Allen Bergner, whose roots trace back to Kankakee High School and Onarga Military Academy, has passed away at 93.
Few Americans can match Bergner's record of service, from his survival in the attack of Pearl Harbor, to commanding submarines in World War II, serving as a Naval group commander during the Vietnam War, and sitting on the panel that investigated the loss of the spy ship, USS Pueblo, off the North Korean coast.
"We all heard of him back in those days," said Vietnam-era Navy veteran and Kankakeean Jim Wasser. "I assure you: He was well-respected by all the men I knew."
Bergner's name began to appear in The Daily Journal when he and former Kays' teammate Harry Stella met as the opposing team captains in the Dec. 2, 1939 Army-Navy football game. The game warranted a rare NBC radio broadcast, and, in Kankakee, it was piped into the Kankakee Armory, where a crowd heard Navy win in a 10-0 upset.
Bergner attended Kankakee High School and the former Onarga Military Academy before heading to Northwestern University and St. John's College. This prepared him for an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy where he excelled not only at football, but at wrestling, lacrosse and boxing.
He graduated in June, 1940, and found himself on the USS West Virginia on Dec. 7, 1941, at Pearl Harbor. The Virginia was sunk that day, but Bergner went on to command the USS S-47, USS Saury, USS Pomodon and the USS Orion. After the war, he was assigned to the Chief of Naval Operations at the Naval Training Center in San Diego.
Personnel who served alongside Bergner remember his fatherly style and his affection for cigars: He chewed one brand and smoked another. They also note that he was most deserving of the honors he earned, including the Legion of Merit award, the Navy and Marine Corps Medal, and the Bronze Star with Combat "V."
Bergner died Monday after a short illness. He will be buried at the U.S. Naval Academy Cemetery in Annapolis, Md. He is survived by his son, Capt. Jon Clark Bergner, and his daughter, Barbara Bergner Murphy, and four grandsons. His wife of 60 years, the former Jayne Lorenda Clark of Joliet, and brother Karl preceded him in death.