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Famous Veteran? "Rabbit Kennedy", WWII-Vietnam


rrobertscv

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For the 2nd year, I am doing a Veterans Day display at a local bank. It is for veterans only, and they average 175-200. This is not the town I live in, but this guy is the local celebrity and very well known. I was just wondering if any of you guys have ever heard of him? I can tell you one thing, no matter how many people are in a room, you will always know he is there.LOL He is one of those guys with a very outgoing personality and a big, booming voice. I am really looking forward to seeing him again and will post some pics after the event.

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Command Sergeant Major (CSM) Lawrence “Rabbit” Kennedy is an intensely proud man and he has every right to be. He spent 34 years serving his nation and finished as one of the most, if not the most, decorated soldier in the history of the Army. When he began his military career, President Franklin D. Roosevelt was commander-in-chief. By the end, President Gerald Ford held the position. CSM Kennedy fought in the Battle of the Bulge in his late teens then trudged through the jungles of Vietnam over 30 years later. In those three and a half decades of service he amassed 34 air medals and four Legions of Merit, the only man ever to do so. But if you ask Rabbit Kennedy what he loved the most about his military career, he says nothing about his medals at all. The only thing he talks about is his men. More than anything else, Rabbit Kennedy loved to take care of the men who called him “Sir”.

People all over Monroe County know Rabbit Kennedy’s story. It is woven into the fabric of local lore. He grew up in relative poverty in Smithville during the Great Depression. A school photo from his childhood shows a shaven head, hollow eyes, and thin limbs. His nickname came from the time a concerned teacher asked him what his family ate for dinner. His answer was simple, “Rabbit”. And that’s what makes CSM Rabbit Kennedy’s story all the more remarkable – and it is remarkable – that he would grow up with so very little but rise up to contribute so much.

In October 1940, a young Rabbit Kennedy walked for two days from his home in Smithville to Tupelo. He was heading to Fort Benning, Georgia to begin his life as a soldier. He had exactly one dollar in his pocket and needed both a sweater and a pair of shoes. Rabbit went to Reed’s in downtown Tupelo where he was helped by a 17-year-old Jack Reed, Sr. Jack Reed found Rabbit both items he needed, but the total came to $1.03. Jack Reed gave him the sweater and shoes, but Rabbit Kennedy promised that day that he would pay him back the three cents he owed him. After that Rabbit Kennedy boarded the train and headed for Georgia. He would spend the next 35 years in the Army.

Rabbit Kennedy’s Army career started out with the hard life of a soldier in World War II. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge, a fierce fight that took place in the frigid winter of 1944. During that battle, he spent nine days in a foxhole next to a dead German soldier. His early days in the Army gave him an appreciation for the life of a soldier. It also gave him a glimpse into the strength of will and character necessary to endure. It was a lesson that he would later instill in the men who served under him.

Rabbit Kennedy remained in the Army after World War II, then served a short stint in Korea during that conflict. He steadily rose through the ranks of the military, gaining a reputation as a hard-nosed sergeant who followed the old code of a “Brown Shoe Soldier”. Brown shoe soldiers were those veterans who believed in strong, hard discipline and training. They were hard on their men for the purpose of making them resilient and obedient. They didn’t care one bit if their men liked them, but they made sure without a doubt that their men respected them. It was an approach that much of the army was leaving behind when the 1960s came around. When Rabbit Kennedy was elevated to Sergeant Major, then ultimately Command Sergreant Major, his reputation was well established as “one of the toughest sons of bitches” in the entire Army.

In September 1965, CSM Kennedy had the privilege of leading the Army’s 1st Cavalry 9th Division into combat. He had personally overseen the men’s training and development as a unit at Fort Benning. No other unit ever reflected his character and demeanor more than the 1st Cavalry. When his men came ashore in Vietnam, it was CSM Kennedy at the front, proudly carrying the American flag. A photographer snapped a photo of Kennedy and his men. It ultimately ended up on the cover of Life Magazine. The time that CSM Kennedy spent in Vietnam with the 1st Cavalry would cement his legacy as one of the most respected and trusted non-commissioned officers.

Throughout his time in the Army, CSM Kennedy met many famous people like John Wayne and Bob Hope. Perhaps his favorite brush with fame came when he asked to serve with President Lyndon B. Johnson in awarding the Medal of Honor to several soldiers. In spite of the numerous stories of notable people, it was still the basic soldier that he cared for the most. In the early 1970s, CSM Kennedy was approached by a soldier who hadn’t received his pay for several weeks and desperately needed to get home to visit his dying mother. CSM Kennedy listened to the soldier’s story and decided to use his influence to help the young man. Within a matter of minutes, the young man’s money had been wired and he was sent to be with his mother. Several years later, as Rabbit worked in his yard at home in Amory, a black Buick pulled into the driveway. It was the same young man now much older, driving to say “thank you”.

When Rabbit Kennedy retired in 1975, he left as the most decorated soldier in the history of the Army. He had earned four Legion of Merit medals for distinguished service, more than any other soldier. He retired to his home in Amory. On his first day out of retirement, Rabbit Kennedy made the short drive from Amory to Tupelo. He went to Reed’s department store and asked for Mr. Reed. Rabbit pulled three pennies out of his pocket and paid off the debt he promised to pay years before. Both men laughed about it. Today, Rabbit’s leadership is still honored by members of the military. The men of the 1st Cavalry who served with him in Vietnam still have a strong affection for their Command Sergeant Major. And their Command Sergeant Major still has a strong affection for them.

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Always looking for 70th Division(The Trailblazers) items or photos.

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