Farm­ing­ton war hero hurt in Afghanistan to get gift of truck

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - HUNTER FIELD

FAYET­TEVILLE — Mar­shall Kennedy, a Ma­rine who lost his legs when a bomb ex­ploded be­neath him six years ago in Afghanistan, cringes when he says the word “hero.”

But on Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon, he’s hav­ing to say that word over and over again in­side a Fayet­teville cof­fee shop. He’s ex­plain­ing the Hu­man Ex­ploita­tion Res­cue Op­er­a­tive Child-Res­cue Corps pro­gram, H.E.R.O. for short, of which he be­came a part af­ter leav­ing the Marines.

Each time, he pauses and squirms in his seat.

“I didn’t do any­thing spe­cial,” he said, ex­plain­ing his aver­sion to the word when talk­ing about him­self. “I just did my job. That was it.”

Kennedy, 32, of Farm­ing­ton will re­ceive a hero’s wel­come at War Memo­rial Sta­dium in Lit­tle Rock on Sat­ur­day when the Mil­i­tary Or­der of the Pur­ple Heart, a ser­vice or­ga­ni­za­tion for com­bat-wounded vet­er­ans, plans to give him a spe­cially equipped Ford Rap­tor truck.

It’s the sec­ond year the na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tion has searched the coun­try for a Pur­ple Heart re­cip­i­ent to

re­ceive the mod­i­fied pur­ple truck, and the first year an Arkansan was se­lected.

“[Kennedy] was, by far, the can­di­date that stuck out to us,” said John Bircher, a na­tional spokesman for the Mil­i­tary Or­der of the Pur­ple Heart.

For Kennedy, it’s com­pli­cated. He was thrilled when he heard he’d been se­lected to re­ceive the truck. But as he thought more about it, he had sec­ond thoughts.

Surely there was a veteran more de­serv­ing, more in need than him­self, he thought.

“Es­pe­cially some of those Viet­nam vet­er­ans,” Kennedy said. “Af­ter the way they were treated, all they went through. One of them ought to get it.”

That’s not to say he’s not grate­ful. He cer­tainly is and says so re­peat­edly.

In April 2011, Kennedy, a For­rest City na­tive, had just ra­dioed in co­or­di­nates for a he­li­copter land­ing zone in San­gin, Afghanistan, when he stepped on an im­pro­vised ex­plo­sive de­vice. The blast was weak. Kennedy sus­pects that the de­vice had been there for a while and lost some of its po­tency.

The ex­plo­sion in­jured his an­kle and side­lined him for a few days, which he calls his “mid-de­ploy­ment va­ca­tion,” but it was se­vere enough to earn him a Pur­ple Heart.

It would still be sev­eral months be­fore he lost most of both his legs.

The Mil­i­tary Or­der of the Pur­ple Heart is one of the many vet­er­ans ser­vice or­ga­ni­za­tions fac­ing dwin­dling mem­ber­ship rolls and de­creased in­volve­ment as vet­er­ans of 20th-cen­tury wars die off. Par­tic­i­pa­tion from vet­er­ans of con­flicts that fol­lowed the ter­ror­ist at­tacks on Sept. 11, 2001, hasn’t kept pace. Ad­di­tion­ally, the num­ber of Pur­ple Heart re­cip­i­ents has steadily shrunk since World War II as com­bat has evolved.

In Arkansas, the most ac­cu­rate count of Pur­ple Heart re­cip­i­ents comes from or­ders for spe­cialty li­cense plates. There are 431 Mil­i­tary Or­der of the Pur­ple Heart mem­bers in Arkansas but 3,639 Pur­ple Heart li­cense plates, ac­cord­ing to the Arkansas Depart­ment of Fi­nance and Ad­min­is­tra­tion. It should be noted, how­ever, that some of those li­cense plates may be du­pli­cates be­long­ing to vet­er­ans with mul­ti­ple ve­hi­cles.

Or­ga­ni­za­tion lead­ers hope the truck and Sat­ur­day’s 10 a.m. pub­lic cer­e­mony at War Memo­rial Sta­dium will make more peo­ple aware of the group, which al­lows fam­ily mem­bers of Pur­ple Heart re­cip­i­ents to join in a non­vot­ing ca­pac­ity.

The cen­tral Arkansas chap­ter has al­ready taken steps catered to­ward younger vet­er­ans. Meet­ings have been moved to af­ter-work hours, and all events are fam­ily-ori­ented.

The first pri­or­ity is for group mem­bers to sup­port one an­other, said Mark Diggs, se­nior vice com­man­der for the Arkansas chap­ter. Some­times that’s moral sup­port; some­times that’s cut­ting the grass or help­ing a veteran’s fam­ily while he’s re­ceiv­ing chemo­ther­apy treat­ments, he said.

“We’ve de­pended on the guy on the right and left when the chips are down,” he said.

Sat­ur­day’s event also will be the cer­e­mo­nial de­but of a statewide ini­tia­tive to place “com­bat wounded re­served park­ing” spa­ces at gov­ern­ment build­ings and pri­vate busi­nesses across the state.

There are a few scat­tered across the Nat­u­ral State, but the group is of­fer­ing busi­nesses the sign in ex­change for a $50 do­na­tion, and it will in­stall the sign and paint the lines for $250. Both do­na­tions are tax-de­ductible.

Three Freddy’s Frozen Cus­tard & Steak­burg­ers lo­ca­tions

in North­west Arkansas have des­ig­nated spa­ces for Pur­ple Heart re­cip­i­ents. Freddy Si­mon, for whom the chain is named, re­ceived a Pur­ple Heart for in­juries suf­fered in World War II.

The spa­ces are used of­ten, said Tim Rheem, direc­tor of op­er­a­tion for 3Pointe Restau­rant Group, the fran­chisee for the Freddy’s lo­ca­tions in North­west Arkansas. Cus­tomers of­ten re­mark on the spa­ces, he added.

“The park­ing spots also bring vet­er­ans to­gether who may not have known one an­other be­fore eat­ing at Freddy’s,” Rheem said. “Just the other day, I saw two gen­tle­men strike up a con­ver­sa­tion in the park­ing lot and they ended up sit­ting to­gether over lunch rem­i­nisc­ing about their years of ser­vice.”

Two months af­ter the ex­plo­sion tweaked his an­kle, Kennedy, an in­fantry squad leader, was on a rou­tine clear­ance mis­sion in San­gin, which he de­scribes as hav­ing a land­scape that’s a mix be­tween North Carolina and Twen­ty­nine Palms, Calif. He was on his fourth de­ploy­ment. It was June 13, 2011.

Afghans in the area alerted Kennedy’s squad to a nearby weapons cache. The troops called for an ord­nance-dis­posal team and be­gan check­ing an­other com­pound when Kennedy bent down to as­sess the sit­u­a­tion.

His left foot hit a pres­sure plate of yet an­other de­vice, but this ex­plo­sion was stronger.

The blast cat­a­pulted him through the air, and he slammed into a wall. He never lost con­scious­ness as his legs were trau­mat­i­cally am­pu­tated.

“Just do­ing my job,” he says now.

He spent about a year-anda-half in re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion and treat­ment and now walks with pros­thet­ics.

He’s 12 hours shy of a crim­i­nal-jus­tice de­gree at the Univer­sity of Arkansas, but he put that on hold while par­tic­i­pat­ing in the child-res­cue pro­gram, which has trained him to be a crim­i­nal foren­sic com­puter an­a­lyst.

Cur­rently, he’s interning at the U.S. Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity as part of a task force in North­west Arkansas that in­ves­ti­gates crimes against chil­dren such as abuse and ex­ploita­tion.

“It gives me that pur­pose,” Kennedy said. “That’s kind of the prob­lem once you get out, is try­ing to find that pur­pose, and that’s what this does.”

Kennedy is interning at the U.S. Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity as part of a task force in North­west Arkansas that in­ves­ti­gates crimes against chil­dren such as abuse and ex­ploita­tion.

Spe­cial to the Demo­crat-Gazette

Mar­shall Kennedy lost his legs when a bomb ex­ploded six years ago in Afghanistan.

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