A Servant Hero
According to the Oxford Dictionary, a hero is a person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities. These attributes precisely describe Oliver Kennedy, Jr. I enjoyed spending time with Mr. Kennedy in his Orlando home, where we discussed his life and legacy. Mr. Kennedy has been a member of the American Legion, Dorie Miller Memorial Post 331, located at 4325 Fairmont St. in Orlando, for over 30 years. He has held every position at the Post during his time at the Legion. Mr. Kennedy also was responsible for establishing the Honor Guard, which provides ceremonial renderings of the United States Flag throughout Orange County. Under his leadership, his Color Guard team are 3-Peat National Champions and has placed first in state and national competitions. Mr. Kennedy's activism also includes his exceptional mentoring capabilities, which are responsible for a Naval Academy Nuclear Submarine Officer, Quinton Cooper, and a WestPoint Military Academy graduate, Joseph Simmons, who are both Maynard Evans High School alums.
His American Legion resume includes an impressive array of roles that show Mr. Kennedy's dedication and commitment to the Post. From being named Sargent at Arms to his two terms as Commander, Mr. Kennedy's influence on the Post is incomparable. But his work and influence didn't end there. Due to efforts, Mr. Kennedy led the charge to have the statue of Dorie Miller, which sits in front of the Legion, commissioned. For those unfamiliar with the story of Dorie Miller, he was the first Black recipient of the Navy Cross and a nominee for the Medal of Honor. As a mess attendant second class in the United States Navy, Miller helped carry wounded sailors to safety during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Despite no prior training in gunnery, Miller manned an anti-aircraft gun and shot down between four and six enemy planes. In 2032, the USS Dorie Miller will be commissioned. It will be the first aircraft carrier named for both an enlisted sailor and an African American. Mr. Kennedy initially traveled to Louisville, Kentucky, but due to price, he found a local sculptor based in Lake Mary to do the job.
Mr. Kennedy, who was born in New Orleans, retired in Orlando after a 30-year military career. He enrolled in 1967 as a Chief Petty Officer. When he joined the Navy, he couldn't even type. As a problem solver, he created a keyboard out of paper to teach himself how to type. When I asked Mr. Kennedy about his decision to join the Navy, he mentioned that he had heard a song from actor and singer Bing Crosby called "Far Away Places." It would be the lyrics from that song that piqued his curiosity for seeing the world.
Each year, The American Legion awards a member the Legionnaire of The Year Award. For his service and dedication to the Post, the award will now be called the Oliver Kennedy, Jr. Legionnaire of The Year Award. This award is a testament to Mr. Kennedy's body of work.
As we wrapped up our time together, I asked Mr. Kennedy for three words that he thinks best describe him. His response was dedication, dependability, and ambition. I can concur! Congratulations, Mr. Kennedy. I salute you on a job well done!