It was on May 7, 1966, that Elizabeth Starrenburg learned the hard reality of Memorial Day’s significance.
On that morning – the start of a beautiful spring day at Fort Benning, Ga. – Starrenburg was on the phone with her sister-in-law, making plans for the return of her husband, Sgt. 1st Class Glenn Kennedy, from Vietnam.
Her oldest daughter, Jane, answered a knock at the door.
“Mom, there’s someone at the door for you,” she yelled.
Starrenburg put the phone down and saw standing on her doorstep an Army major, a chaplain and a German interpreter. Starrenburg immediately comprehended the message they had brought.
“You have the wrong house,” she told them.
“Are you Mrs. Kennedy?” they asked.
“In the name of the president...” the major started.
But Starrenburg didn’t hear the rest.
“I went ballistic,” she remembers more than 46 years later.
Starrenburg had met her husband while he was stationed in her native Schweinfurt, Germany. They had been married six years on the day he was killed.
Before his deployment, he gave his wife three instructions to follow if he was killed: raise his three children in the United States, remarry, and allow his children to keep the Kennedy name.
Starrenburg followed all of those instructions; her husband, Gerard Starrenburg, was by her side Thursday during a memorial service at Fort Gordon.
Starrenburg remains fiercely proud of her adopted home, and her children have grown up to embrace their father’s example of military service. Glenn Kennedy II was Fort Gordon’s garrison commander for two years.
Starrenburg, now a U.S. citizen, urges Americans to take the time on Memorial Day to pause and reflect on the service members who died for their freedom.
“For me the United States is home, and I’m forever grateful he gave his life for that,” she said.