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A Soldier’s Final Journey Home

A Soldier’s Final Journey Home


“This is what they despatched us,” Oneida Sanders mentioned, kneeling beside a heavy wood chest in her front room. “These are Kennedy’s issues.”

Sgt. Kennedy Sanders’s belongings have been shipped residence to her mother and father after she was killed: Dog tags, identification playing cards, Polaroids of her household. Gold jewellery and 1 / 4 that gave the impression to be stained with blood.

The objects supplied a glimpse into the individual, soldier and daughter that Kennedy was and who she had hoped to grow to be.

Kennedy was serving on a U.S. army outpost in Jordan in January when an Iran-backed militia launched a drone assault on the bottom. Less than 24 hours later, two uniformed service members confirmed up on the doorstep of Oneida and Shawn Sanders within the small city of Waycross, Ga.

Ms. Sanders wasn’t residence that morning, however her husband, Shawn, was. He instructed her to return residence instantly after which started calling relations and mates, asking them to return to the home.

When Ms. Sanders arrived, one of many troopers learn an announcement informing them that their 24-year-old daughter had been killed in motion.

“As quickly as I bought into the home and noticed the 2 officers standing in the lounge, I collapsed,” Ms. Sanders mentioned.

The final time Ms. Sanders heard her daughter’s voice was the day earlier than she was killed. They had talked about the kind of Girl Scout cookies Kennedy needed her mom to ship and her determination to re-enlist within the Army.

Kennedy’s unit, a workforce of engineering specialists educated to deploy on quick discover and construct infrastructure like roads and airstrips, had arrived in Jordan shortly after the struggle between Israel and Hamas started in October. The troopers have been supporting Operation Inherent Resolve, a mission to fight the Islamic State, which has claimed the lives of 113 U.S. service members because it started in August 2014, in response to the most recent Defense Department casualty report.

Sgt. William Jerome Rivers and Sgt. Breonna Alexsondria Moffett have been additionally killed within the drone strike in Jordan.

Kennedy’s mother and father have grappled with the ache of outliving their youngster ever since. “It’s heavy,” Ms. Sanders mentioned, pausing briefly, her voice notably modified when she spoke once more. “It’s heavy.”

Family had at all times been essential to Kennedy. Even as an grownup she most popular being residence. From a younger age, she sorted her twin brother, Kendall. She was protecting of her youthful brother, Christian.

She was recognized in Waycross for her athletic capacity, management, work ethic and magnificence. She was well mannered however didn’t have time for small discuss. But when folks bought to know her they normally discovered she was an extrovert, the lifetime of the party, Ms. Sanders mentioned.

During a dignified switch in February at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, Kennedy’s flag-draped switch case was the final of the three carried off a army cargo airplane. President Biden stood, hand over coronary heart, on the chilly, moist tarmac to pay his respects because the commander in chief.

Mr. and Ms. Sanders mentioned that Mr. Biden met with them privately at Dover and expressed a real understanding of their great ache as he, too, had misplaced a toddler.

Mr. Biden posthumously promoted Kennedy from specialist to sergeant and awarded her a purple coronary heart, one of many army’s most distinguished decorations.

After the dignified switch at Dover, Kennedy’s stays have been returned to Waycross.

Kennedy’s mother and father didn’t see their daughter’s physique till simply earlier than the general public viewing on Feb. 16. The household nonetheless has not acquired the official post-mortem report from the Defense Department, leaving them to take a position in regards to the exact explanation for her loss of life.

“You know, if you consider an explosion sufferer, your thoughts goes all varieties of instructions,” Ms. Sanders mentioned. “I didn’t know what was coming again to us in that field.” Seeing her daughter’s physique in a single piece “was a reduction for me,” she mentioned.

People from Waycross and the encircling space filed into the viewing for Kennedy. For hours, mates and neighbors approached Ms. Sanders in tears to hug her, pray together with her and provide their condolences.

“I don’t really feel robust,” she mentioned, referring to the day of the viewing. “I really feel like, at any second, I can have a breakdown, at any second, however it’s a very deliberate and aware effort simply to stand up daily and bathe, brush my enamel, do basic items.”

The subsequent day tons of of individuals attended Kennedy’s funeral service on the native center faculty. Ms. Sanders was overwhelmed with emotion as she and her household slowly made their manner down the aisle to see Kennedy one last time.

As the service ended, pallbearers positioned Kennedy’s flag-draped casket behind a horse-drawn carriage to be taken to Oakland Cemetery.

At graveside, service members folded the flag, and an officer knelt handy it to Mr. Sanders, himself a former Marine.

Kennedy and her household — her father, cousins and uncles — devoted their lives to the U.S. Army, Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force.

The household has discovered that it’s not alone, as town of Waycross has come collectively to protect Kennedy’s reminiscence.

The avenue she grew up on is now named after her, a sprawling mural has been painted on the aspect of a enterprise downtown, and scholarships in Kennedy’s title have been created. Her title was not too long ago engraved on the Waycross Veterans Memorial.

Months after her loss of life, a job so simple as opening the mail can convey the tough actuality of Kennedy’s absence dashing again, because it did in April when Ms. Sanders acquired a letter from the county election workplace informing her that her daughter could be faraway from the checklist of registered voters.

“Whenever you cope with this, you’re in disbelief and shock for a very long time,” mentioned Ms. Sanders. “But now and again, you already know, one thing occurs that makes you notice that it’s actually actual, and he or she is actually gone.”

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