World War II Navy veteran and Pearl Harbor survivor Paul Kennedy took a seat of honor on The American Legion's Indy 500 Festival Parade float.

Veteran to veteran

No one was talking about post-traumatic stress disorder at the time of Paul Kennedy’s medical discharge from the Navy near the end of World War II. Nearly four decades would pass before the condition would be defined, acknowledged and commonly diagnosed among combat veterans. Kennedy, a signalman on a destroyer, had nearly been killed by a Japanese warplane at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. He watched in horror as sailors aboard USS Oklahoma were propelled to their deaths when the first torpedo hit. He sailed in 28 round-trip convoys across the North Atlantic and helped escort landing craft crossing the English Channel into Normandy on D-Day, fully aware of the fate awaiting those who would storm the beaches. Kennedy was shot by an enemy submariner forced to surface right next to his ship. “The first guy to come out, came out with a machine gun and started strafing us,” the Legionnaire from Greenwood, Ind., explained. “I am standing up there, and I caught a little lead … it wasn’t serious, but it hit me. But that’s not what put me in the hospital. What put me in the hospital was PTSD.”Kennedy, now 89, has spent nearly 70 years coming to terms with his combat experiences and helping other veterans get through theirs. “The way I got over it was talking about it with my fellow veterans,” said Kennedy, who joined Legionnaires from three other war eras on The American Legion’s float in the IPL 500 Festival Parade, part of the celebration surrounding the Indianapolis 500, last weekend. Kennedy said it’s vital for veterans of different war periods to make connections, especially with those coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan. He spends an hour every Tuesday evening in a “vet-to-vet” session of peer therapy which transcends the war eras. “We’ve got these young guys coming in now with a monkey on their back,” Kennedy explained. “I can tell them how to get rid of it. Others can, also. We’ve got several there from the Vietnam War – which was a terrible war. They know.”Before climbing aboard the Legion float in the May 29 parade, Kennedy discussed his wartime experiences and the challenges he faced in the years that followed. Joining him on the float were Indiana Army National Guard Master Sgt. John Madden (whose wife and children make them a seven-Blue Star Family) along with sons Cayce and Tim; Vietnam War veteran Larry White of American Legion Post 500, in full Legion Riders regalia; and John Thomas, a Korean War veteran and adjutant of Post 249 in Indianapolis.While waiting for the parade to start, Kennedy and others escaped the heat inside the Indiana National Guard Armory in downtown Indianapolis. There, the World War II veteran recollected some of the experiences that would shape the rest of his life. One – while serving on the USS Sacramento on Dec. 7, 1941 –  would alter the course of Western civilization.“After I was relieved at 4 a.m., I stayed up and drank coffee until 5:30 with the fellow who relieved me. I was going to sleep all day Sunday. At about five minutes until 8, the alarm went off, and I thought it was a drill. I wrapped the pillow around my head. I thought, this is one drill I’m not going to. Half our crew was on liberty anyway.“Then, a buddy of mine pulled me out of my bunk and he said, ‘Come on, Paul! The Japs are bombing the hell out of us. Get your gas mask and your helmet. Get to your battle station!’”The first thing he saw after passing through the hatch, Kennedy said, was a Japanese torpedo plane directly overhead. “The pilot had his canopy back. He was looking down at me, and I was looking up at him, and I can remember his face clearly. He dropped that torpedo in the water and I watched it. It went across and hit the Oklahoma. There were three men on the side of the Oklahoma that were standing right above where the torpedo hit. They went flying up in the air like rag dolls, and back down into the water. I went on to my battle station. “There were torpedo planes coming in left and right. We got hit with 350 planes, and every plane had either a 500-pound bomb or a torpedo. Each one of those battleships caught seven or eight torpedoes apiece. While they were doing that, these bombers were dropping bombs on everything. One bomb was meant for our ship but hit on a dock beside us.”Kennedy soon had a brush with death. “I went up to my signal station, and there was a hoist on the tower – a flag hoist – so I’m busy running that flag up in the air, which is what I am supposed to do, and a Jap zero drops a 500-pound bomb on the Pennsylvania, which is in dry dock, which is where we were a week before, and immediately heads our way and starts strafing. I thought, ‘Do I want to get shot in the back or the belly?’ I elected to face him. I won’t tell you what I said. He missed me by an elbow length. He didn’t hit anyone on our ship. But from that time on, it was just chaotic.“The Oklahoma was over on her side in 20 minutes. Those guys were scrambling for their lives. Guys were abandoning ship. So it was complete chaos. The first wave left, and we thought, ‘Well, it’s all over.’ And here the next wave came in. They continued to bomb and do damage, but the thing that really bothers me is these sailors were in the water – dead, in their white uniforms, in the oil, in the water – and the boats were picking them up. They would get a boatload of dead men, and some live guys, and these Jap planes would come down and strafe them. Absolutely defenseless. That hurt. That still bothers me today. It took me a long time to forgive the Japanese. I didn’t want to go to my grave hating anybody, so I forgive them.”His experiences in the North Atlantic were similarly harrowing, including the machine-gun wound and the D-Day assault, before the weight of the war became too much to bear.“I got to the point where I’d had it,” Kennedy explained. “I got to a point where I didn’t care about anything, anybody. I didn’t care who won the war. I was that bad. I got into the hospital, and I wouldn’t eat. They said, ‘We will force-feed you.’ “I said, ‘Go ahead – I don’t care.’ I didn’t want to go on liberty. I just wanted to get out. So they gave me a discharge and enough money to get home, and they said, ‘Don’t talk about it.’ That was the wrong thing. It took me a long time before I got over it.”The only treatment that worked for him, he said, was talking about the experience with other veterans. A member of multiple veterans-service organizations, the Pearl Harbor survivor now embraces his wartime memories, one in particular:“That night at Pearl – about midnight – the West Virginia was anchored right in front of the Arizona. The Arizona was burning and burning. Smoke was pouring off of it. The West Virginia’s flag was still up on her stern. From our perspective, it looked like the flag was right in the middle of the fire, the flame and the smoke. Today, when I hear “The Star-Spangled Banner,” I get a cold chill up my back because I can still see that site. It inspired all of us to see that flag still flying.”


  1. I was surfing the WEB while working on a newsletter I put together for some of the Pearl Harbor Survivors in California. I was very touched reading the article about Survivor Paul Kennedy. I appreciated reading his story and it helps to learn from him. This helps me to understand some of the experiences my dad had at Pearl, which he did not talk to me about in detail. Best regards and thanks and love to all service persons. Mary Hicks, daughter of William Marlow Hicks, USS Montgomery.
  2. When you sign up you are giving yourself to the gov't for their use. When they are done with you or you with them they should see to your mental health just like your phisical health as long as needed.It is a real shame that you have to figure out for oneself how to get help. I've never gotten any help but I have talked to other sailors from other destroyers about where those 5 inch 54's were going and who they were killing. It can be a nightmare at times. I liked Plane guarding the carriers alot better because we knew we were protecting another ship and if we had to fire at another aircraft it was in self defense. GOD bless all of my brothers and sisters who went and gave. Mike
  3. I hear about PTSD constantly. I was a Flight Crew Member on an airplane I was flying to Iraq. Unfortunately, we never made it. We had to return to base due to mechanical problems. We never made it back to base either. We crash landed short of the runway. Breaking my back, unable to walk anymore, several years later, it still ANGERS me to the point of wondering if I will ever get over it. Who am I suppose to talk to? Our "government programs" suddenly appearing because of the Iraq War? So many PHONY organizations out there "thinking" they are helping when all they are doing is trying to make a name for THEMSELVES! The VA is pathetic! The so-called "organizations" are pathetic! And our government is the culprit! You will NEVER get "over it". There are so many thousands, like myself, who receive a constant runaround! Life, as I knew it, has been destroyed and my government doesn't even know I exist! I was lucky to survive!!?? I beg to differ! Take your money and shove it!
  4. I was an 11B in Vietnam 04/66 to 04/67. I spent 40 years after the nam trying to figure out why I was the way I was, including many visits to the VHA from mid 1985 to mid 2004. I was told I was just depressed and letter I learns from reading my progress notes they wrote that I had a personality disorder but not PTSD. In 2004 I finally moved after I lost everything and started going to a different Vet Center. From there the Vet Center got me to an inpatient program at a VAMC that has an outstanding PTSD program. I was there 3 times for 5 weeks each and I can now finally hold my head high and tell people that I am a Vietnam Vet. The program helps to understand why we are like we are and ways to deal with PTSD. I lot of time is spent talking about traumas. I am going back for another 5 weeks shortly; the program has helped to keep me alive.
  5. THat's bs what he said. You never get over it. I was in denile for many years. I. a Viet Nam combat wounded vet with a cib of course, purple heart, etc., who saw enough shit with the 1st Air Cav in 1968 Now i'm 100% totally disabled with PTSD. This article is no encouragement to file. All you vets from Viet Nam to AFghanistan with problems from the wars, get your ass to the DVA and file for what you deserve. You will never get over it.That's why you get compensated. Steve(mutt) Shear
  6. Thank you Mr. Kennedy for your insight. I also realized early on that talking about the horrors of war that I had experienced in Vietnam, though painful to do, had a positive outcome overall. Four years ago, my niece interviewed me about my experiences in the Marine Corps and my time in Nam. The answers were just statistics to me, so I decided to write a memoir to put a face, the personality and character to the questions she asked. It is called "The Best of the Best - The Fighting 5th Marines - Vietnam". This story covers my life from childhood to joining the Marines, life before,during and after Vietnam, my life since. I found out that this was for me, at least, a very good way to deal with my demons created from that war. I wrote it like I was writing a letter to a good friend, which for me was a good forum in creating this book. Going to the Vet Center has also helped. If interested, my book is on Amazon and Barnes and Nobles. Semper Fi, Paul A McNally
  7. To all veterans: Thank You! And if you are a veteran or know one please visit PatriotOutreach(dot)org or google "Patriot Outreach" because Verterans are being helped there!
  8. EXCATLY, 1/Sgt.Farrell. I came back from the DMZ (1966-67) only to spend the next 43yrs. hearing from almost ALL "how lucky I was". As if I was able to choose my duty assignments. I left a lot more than some friends there - I had left me but did not know. Couldn't, wouldn't talk with others about any of it so I quickly learned how to as my wife puts it, "become a hermit amongst people." She has always said, I am afraid of success, which I never really grasped. I go to a group but we are not allowed to talk about previous experiences - I have made mentioned many times to this one therapist I talk with sometimes that, there are times you actually feel like talking but there is nobody (I talk to my dog alot) not quite the samething. Talking to anybody except another veteran is not my cup of tea (not sure I would trust one enough to say much of anything).
  9. As the daughter of a Korean "ex-POW", I want to thank you for talking about PTSD. Not only does the trauma that one endures affect the soldier, but it also affects his family for the remainder of his / their lives. It is vital that one begins talking about this as early as possible, and receives the help they need quickly. It is also important that those around them, ie family, employers, friends are also educated about the changes in the person. There is a new grassroots effort to start a support group called "get em talking" while it is not fully ready to provide support yet, there is a web page, and facebook page. Please check them out. God Bless you for your service, and God Bless the USA!
  10. The primary "cure" for PTSD, I learned during my therapy time 16 years after RVN, was Grieving the loss of the person you would have been, had the trauma not happened. And the primary way to do that is to do the same things one does when one loses a loved one. You talk about it with those who know and understand the significance of your loss and what that means to you. It is not just "War Stories". It is the healing of and for the memories. CH(LTC) AUS, Retired
  11. Legionnaire Kennedy has driven the nail home. While the stereotype of a bunch of Vets sitting around a smoke filled Legion or VFW hall talking trash is pretty common, the best cure for PTSD -- if a cure is possible -- is connection with other vets. For a couple of years, I used to teach the transition assistance program for the Navy, and I would finish my three days by pointing out that even though we hadn't walked in each others shoes, we'd walked on parallel tracks; I considered these Sailors and Marines, ranging from E1 through O6 to be members of my extended family, and if ever there was anything I could do for them, to please do me the favor of lending a hand. Telling your story and listening to others is the best way to get it off your chest and to get perspective. It's hard for a lot of us stoic warriors to do, but it works. Mike Farrell First Sergeant, USA (Retired)
  12. As a veteran of the Persian Gulf War and Operation Restore Hope, and a grandson of a WWII veteran (deceased), I am proud of all veterans who serve our beautiful country in any military and are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for the freedoms we all enjoy today! Thank all of you and keep up the good work. Keep telling your story, for we are all better for them and will learn from all your infinate wisdom. Prior SSGT USMC "Semper Fidelis"
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