Honor Our Fallen Heroes: We Remember

Longtime Honor Our Fallen Heroes attendee Jan Kennedy, sister of Ensign John Kennedy III ’79, USN, thought no one remembered her brother and his story.

In 1981, Jan Kennedy, her sister and parents were sitting in Jan’s childhood home, when they received a knock on the door that would change their family forever. John Kennedy was lost when the T-2C jet trainer aircraft he was piloting crashed during carrier qualifications in the Gulf of Mexico.

After being commissioned into the Navy, Kennedy went on to fulfill his dream of attending the U.S. Naval Academy and becoming a pilot.

“The last thing in his life that he did was qualify for his wings,” she said. “He got his wings and flew to heaven. In great loss, it’s reassuring to know that we will see one another again.”

It wasn’t until 2013 that Jan Kennedy returned to the Naval Academy, after Lieutenant Commander Stanley Clark Jr. ’79, USN (Ret.), John’s company mate, contacted her about the first Honor Our Fallen Heroes event hosted by the Naval Academy Alumni Association and Foundation.

“That was the first contact with anybody who knew my brother,” Jan Kennedy said. “Thirty-three years later, and it was really just so cool to know that people still remember.

“I went back for Honor Our Fallen Heroes and a bunch of John’s classmates came to the game and tailgate because they wanted to tell stories about my brother and they were still talking about him like it was yesterday. They wanted to tell us that they still miss him, and they even invited us back to their 35th reunion.

“(John’s companymates) are still family. I keep in contact with a whole bunch of them. My family always kept John with us. That’s what means so much to us about Honor Our Fallen Heroes, they want us to know that they haven’t forgotten either.”

Memorial Hall is a sacred place of reflection and remembrance, honoring those Naval Academy alumni who made the ultimate sacrifice for their nation. In Memorial Hall, the walls display more than 2,700 names of alumni, whose lives and legacies continue to live on and inspire future generations of midshipmen.

While ceremonies are held there on occasion and visitors are welcome, Memorial Hall is mostly silent, a place that serves as a reminder of valor and service; commemorating the legacy of these fallen alumni from classes 1846-2020. Their stories of sacrifice to something bigger than themselves are shared with midshipmen and the Naval Academy community.


Honoring Heroes

The U.S. Naval Academy Alumni Association and Foundation hosted the first Honor Our Fallen Heroes event in 2013. Annually, families and classmates gather in the N* Room at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium to reconnect and remember their loved ones whose legacy and courage carries on throughout the Naval Academy and the alumni community.

During Honor Our Fallen Heroes, families come together to reconnect with their fallen loved one’s company mates. Each year, families of fallen alumni are invited to attend a Navy football game, where there is an on-field ceremony to recognize those lost and a time for the Naval Academy community to gather in honor of these alumni.

While pictures of fallen alumni are displayed in the N* Room, families and alumni rekindle relationships and remember the impact their loved ones left at the Academy. Families and friends return to Annapolis for Honor Our Fallen Heroes because they appreciate knowing the Naval Academy and the Alumni Association have not forgotten them nor their fallen loved ones.

Much like Jan Kennedy’s family, other families continue to attend the event and connect with Naval Academy alumni, sharing stories and recalling memories of their times on the Yard. Families that return year after year engage with one another, sharing an unbreakable bond. Family members of all ages are welcome to visit the Naval Academy to learn about the institution and their loved one’s legacy.

“Returning to the Academy makes me think of all the times coming to see Seth and his friends, or more memorable times like Ring Dance,” said Karen Michaud Goldsmith, widow of the late Captain Seth Michaud ’98, USMC. “Seeing all the young midshipmen and knowing some of the experiences they are going to get. It really stirs up a lot of emotion, mostly happy feelings, but it is also hard to return without Seth.”

Captain Michaud, who served in the Marine Corps after his time at the Academy, was killed in a live training accident in Africa in 2003. Ian Michaud lost his father at 18-months-old, but he visits Annapolis with his family to remember his father.

“I return to the Academy mostly for this weekend,” Ian Michaud said. “It makes me feel proud of my father.”

During the football game, families, representing their fallen, join the Superintendent and alumni on the football field for a moment of reflection and recognition. Honor Our Fallen Heroes also gives midshipmen a chance to speak with these families and learn about their stories.

“(Honor Our Fallen Heroes) shows the midshipmen the legacy the Academy carries,” Ian Michaud said. “It shows the importance of being a part of the Academy community and provides a sense of belonging.”

The Michauds, Kennedys and the families of all lost alumni will always be welcomed back to the Naval Academy and are encouraged to share their stories.

“(Honor our Fallen Heroes) makes you realize you are not alone. It provides families an opportunity to come together with a fun environment that is focused on honoring their loved one,” Karen Michaud Goldsmith said.

The Naval Academy Alumni Association and Foundation continues to honor more than 2,000 fallen alumni who were lost in an operational loss or killed in action. It is a privilege to welcome back these families and listen to their stories. The Alumni Association and Foundation will never forget about the sacrifice our fallen alumni have made nor their families.

“A lot of people don’t know that people still remember their loved ones. I think they need to know and there is healing in that,” Jan Kennedy said.

Honor Our Fallen Heroes is a celebration of life and memories, a chance for families and alumni to support one another and reconnect at the place where lifelong bonds were first formed. The Naval Academy Alumni Association and Foundation is committed to preserving the memories of our fallen heroes, said Naval Academy Alumni Association Executive Vice President for Engagement and Communications Commander Craig Washington ’89, USN (Ret.).

Washington said Honor our Fallen Heroes is a tribute to those who gave all for our country. For that, he said, we are eternally grateful and we will continue to shine the light on our heroes and support their loved ones.

“It is a time to remember what our fallen alumni stood for in their lives and to never forget the sacrifice they made for the ideals of this great nation,” Washington said.

Source: Shipmate-September 2021