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Purple Heart recipient honored in Winston-Salem, 69 years after WWII injury

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Purple Heart recipient Lloyd Bryant salutes as he takes his turn through the Walk of Honor at the Northwest Piedmont Purple Heart Dinner, Saturday, August 16, 2014. (David Rolfe/Journal)

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Sixty-nine years after he was wounded during World War II, Purple Heart recipient Samuel Kennedy was honored with a standing ovation at the Winston-Salem Fairgrounds Annex Building Saturday night, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.

The Northwest Piedmont Purple Heart Foundation recognized Kennedy during its second annual banquet. Kennedy was one of 115 Purple Heart recipients at the ceremony. The recipients were wounded in combat from World War II through the U.S. military’s actions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Kennedy came in a limousine along with his family and stepped onto a red carpet.

Other Purple Heart recipients were introduced Saturday and escorted to their tables through a saber salute provided by members of the Marine Junior ROTC at South Stokes High School. But Kennedy didn’t walk through the saber salute; there was a special presentation for him because of the long time he had waited for his honor.

“I think it’s wonderful,” said Kennedy, who is 90. “I’m just overwhelmed, more than I ever expected. It was great.”

Kennedy was just 18 when he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corp. The year was 1943. Two years later, he was fighting in World War II. Kennedy was part of the 29th Marine Regiment of the 6th Marine Division. Soldiers had been training for battle in Iwo Jima but were sent, instead, to Okinawa, Japan.

On June 11, 1945, Kennedy was shot in the left hand as he was shielding his helmet from gunfire. Kennedy was taken away on June 14 but was sent back to battle on June 20 because his fellow soldiers were under heavy fire. Some units of the 29th Marine Regiment had casualty rates of up to 80 percent.

In the midst of the chaos, Kennedy tucked his paperwork away. In 1946, he was discharged. He re-enlisted in 1950, helping train soldiers during the Korean War, and was discharged again, as a staff sergeant, in 1954. He returned home and began raising a family with his wife, Norma Settle Kennedy. He and Norma operated Kennedy’s Grocery and Meat Market on Kernersville Road for 11 years and worked at other meat markets in the area.

In 2011, Samuel Kennedy and his daughter, Linda Kennedy Johnson, were rummaging through his things and found the hospital slip from when he was wounded in World War II in a cedar chest. Johnson said she asked her father about it and realized that her father should have gotten a Purple Heart. She contacted U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C.

Burr’s office worked on the issue and sent Samuel Kennedy a letter in October 2012, informing him that he would receive a Purple Heart. A small ceremony was held on Nov. 4, 2012, but the Northwest Piedmont Purple Heart Foundation wanted to have a ceremony to properly honor Kennedy, Johnson said.

The plan was to have Kennedy honored at last year’s banquet, but Kennedy’s wife, Norma Kennedy, was sick. She died on New Year’s Eve last year. They would have been married 69 years this past May, Johnson said.

Pete Knight, the foundation’s president, said the organization is dedicated to recognizing Purple Heart recipients like Kennedy. The organization also seeks to educate people about what Purple Heart recipients and their families go through, Knight said.

On Saturday, the foundation also honored the families of 19 men who were killed in action in service of the nation.

Kennedy is retired and lives in Kernersville. Including Johnson, he has two children, four living grandchildren (a fifth grandchild died), and five great-grandchildren.

Johnson said getting the Purple Heart has brought up a lot of memories of his time in World War II.

“He told me good ones and bad ones, but the good ones outweigh the bad ones,” she said. “If he had to do it over again, he would do it again because he loved the Marines.”