Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Joe Kenny laid to rest

ELMIRA - It was a keepsake no military mother wants to receive.

Army Sgt. Jared Graves presented Linda Peterson-Phillips Smith with a neatly folded U.S. flag Monday afternoon at a memorial service in Elmira commemorating the death of her son Joseph Paul Kenny. Kenny was also Graves' brother-in- law.

About 200 of Spc. Kenny's family, friends, comrades and other veterans gathered in the Elmira High School gymnasium to remember the 20-year-old Veneta man, who was killed on June 23 while serving in Mosul, Iraq. They faced a somber scene with dozens of flower bouquets lined in front of the flag-draped casket. The two-hour service drew many people who attended school with Kenny, as well as former teachers and family friends.

Gov. Ted Kulongoski addressed the gathering, speaking at his second military funeral in as many weeks after Dominic Nathaniel Rodriguez of Klamath Falls died in Baghdad on the same day that Kenny died.

"I must tell you that as much as I love this area, I prayed that I would never have to come back to mourn the loss of a soldier," said Kulongoski, who once lived near Junction City. "(Kenny) was the best Oregon has to offer."

Close family and friends remembered Kenny for his bright personality, sense of humor and selflessness. Comrades praised his leadership and work ethic on duty.

"I didn't know him personally," Kulongoski said. "But I feel I've gotten to know him, and gotten to know his character."

Family members also compiled and played a 20-minute video slideshow chronicling Kenny's life from his time as an infant to his final months and days in Oregon and Iraq. Pictures often showed Kenny's fun-loving side - making faces or pretending to dress as a woman in some cases - drawing laughs from some and tears from others. Frames near the end showed him with his fiancée, Ashley Brodkorb.

Sobs filled the gymnasium when a military officer played "Taps" as an Honor Guard held a flag above Kenny's silver casket and, from outside, the sound of gunshots echoed through the doors during a rifle salute.

Many of those present were unacquainted veterans who simply wanted to pay respects to one of their own.

The Patriot Guard Riders, a traveling veterans' group, lined the walkway into the gym and silently held dozens of American flags above visitors as they filed into the building for the service.

The group exemplified a larger camaraderie within each branch of the military, said Ken Brown, a Eugene pastor who led the ceremony.

"I think it says there's still a group of people who love their country," Brown said after the service. "Whether or not they agree with the war, they're here to say, 'You know what, he's our guy, and we're going to support him.' "

Following the ceremony, dozens approached the front of the gymnasium to embrace and console Smith, Brodkorb and other family members.

"They say that making sense of death is hard," Brown said. "But they say that making sense of senseless death is even harder."

Kenny was born Dec. 26, 1986, in Eugene. He enlisted in May 2005, shortly before graduating from Elmira High School, and he was deployed to Iraq last fall.

Kenny worked as an electronics devices repairman with the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division.

He died in an undisclosed noncombat incident that remains under investigation, according to military officials at Fort Bliss, Texas.

Kenny was the 17th member of the 4th Brigade to have died in the current campaign. He is the 91st soldier with Oregon ties to have died in Operation Enduring Freedom or the war in Iraq, and the third from Lane County.

From the Register Guard

Related Link:
Joe Kenny comes home

Related Link:
Joseph P. Kenny dies 'of injuries suffered from a non-combat related incident'