Date:  Mon. January 31, 2011                    

    Contact: Manny P. Hernandez                                                                

                Manager, Public Information


U.S. Army Air Corps Tec Sergeant and B-24 Liberator waist-gunner veteran Joe E. Kennedy seated, center) is joined by his daughter Sharon Hogan (bottom, left) and his bride of 65 years Bernice E. (Kellogg) Kennedy (seated, right). Standing, (l to r): Fred Crawford, U.S. Air Force veteran, a Cornerstone Hospice volunteer for military affairs and presenter of the Cornerstone SALUTES! recognition; Kevin Kennedy, son, Mascotte, FL; Mary Unsworth, LPN with Hospice; Donna Kinnie, daughter, Rutland, VT; Julie Lapham, granddaughter, from Massachusetts; Kathy Hill, daughter, from White Creek, NY; Susan Parker, daughter, from Clarendon, VT; Patrick Kennedy, son, of Clermont, FL; Teddy Palermo, RN with Hospice; Sherri Craig, social worker with Hospice; Charlotte Taylor, CNA with Hospice and Manny Relta of Minneola, FL.

CLERMONT, FL – World War II hero Joseph E. Kennedy describes how General George Patton broke thru the barricades of Stalag VII riding atop his personal tank on the day his forces liberated the starving 32,000 allied POWs being held in Moosburg, near Munich, in May of 1945. A few days ago, the Kennedy clan from throughout the East coast gathered with friends and well-wishers at the family’s Clermont home to observe the Kennedy’s 65th wedding anniversary.  Although now receiving care at home provided by not-for-profit Cornerstone Hospice and Palliative Care, Kennedy shared some of his experiences on the day he was decorated with a pin and a certificate of appreciation as part of the Cornerstone SALUTES!  program in recognition of the sacrifices by veteran patients throughout Central Florida.

 Joe Kennedy enlisted in the Army Air Corps on October 27, 1942 at age eighteen, barely a few months after graduation from Mount St. Joseph Academy, and was promptly deployed to basic training at Army bases in Denver, Salt Lake City, Boise, California, Nebraska and final boot camp training at Miami Beach. Kennedy’s unit was assigned to fly to Natal in Brazil, where they had to wait twenty-seven days for replacement tires which their plane had burst upon a rough landing. From there, the 451st Bombing Group was off to Ascencion Island off the southwest coast of Africa, then to Italy, France, Belgium and Germany. Kennedy eventually saw action in Naples-Foggia; in Rome-Arno; participated in numerous air offensives over Europe; air combat over the Balkans; and is a recipient of the Army Air Corps’ European-African-Middle-Eastern Theater Campaign ribbon. Kennedy’s group flew 33 bombing missions against Nazi positions.

 With rank of Tech Sergeant, Kennedy was a waist gunner on B-24 Liberator bombers. His 33rd and last bombing mission took him over Budapest, Hungary on April 13, 1944, when their B-24 bomber “We Miss America” got shot so heavily by German fighters that the fuselage cracked open, causing the deaths of seven of the ten crewmen. Only three survived; Joe Kennedy was one of the three survivors, although with both legs badly damaged by flak and without boots, which he lost upon the jolt of his parachute opening up. Kennedy fell in the marshlands of the Danube River over Budapest, bootless and on a very cold April night “and I guarantee you, the Danube isn’t blue!”, he emphasizes. In Nazi-occupied Hungary, Kennedy was taken prisoner and transported to POW camp Stalag Luft III near the east-German town of Sagan, roughly one hundred miles southeast of Berlin and some sixty miles from the border with Poland.

 The following winter, with POWs virtually starved and rags passing for clothes, their Nazi captors decided to force over twenty thousand Americans, British, French, Canadians, Australians and other allied prisoners to a grueling “Death March” of 602 miles to Stalag VIIA, another POW encampment outside Moosburg near Munich. So brutal was the trek that even better-fed, well-booted and better-clothed Nazi guards fell dead by the side of the road during the march where several thousand POWs died. Survivors would remain there at the Moosburg POW camp, home now to 32,000 allied prisoners who would live on two ounces of meat a week, one teaspoon of sugar a day, and one loaf of black bread for 16 men.

Liberated by General George Patton plowing thru in his personal tank!

In May, 1945, Nazi Germany was in no shape to resist the Allied onslaught and the 32,000 allied POWs at Moosburg welcomed with open arms the forces headed by General George Patton with the General himself riding  on his personal tank, ramming over and over again through the wooden chicken hut-like barracks where the POWs had spent the entire winter and spring, bringing to an end a nightmarish thirteen months of German captivity.

Upon returning home to Vermont, Joe and Berniece were soon married on January 21, 1946, bringing up their family in Rutland, but eventually retiring to the warmer climate of central Florida. Gathering at their Clermont home to observe their parents’ 65th wedding anniversary were their six children: Patrick Kennedy of Clermont, FL; Donna Kinnie of Rutland, VT; Kathy Hill of White Creek, NY; Sharon Hogan of Clermont, FL; Susan Parker of Clarendon, VT and Kevin Kennedy of Mascotte, FL, as well as Julie Lapham, granddaughter.

To honor veteran patients and their families by meeting their unique needs, Pat Lehotsky, President and CEO of Cornerstone Hospice, has instituted a comprehensive veterans recognition program, Cornerstone SALUTES!, consisting of a team of professionals and volunteers who have been specially trained in a program designed by national VA expert Deborah Grassman, and patterned under VA guidelines. “Many veterans experience traumatic conditions that are present today, even six and a half decades after participation in extremely hostile and dangerous engagements on behalf of their nation, like our patient Joe Kennedy did, enduring being shot down, being wounded during that action, plus being held prisoner of war for thirteen hellish months”, indicated Ms. Lehotsky.

Fran Sykora, RN and Regional Team Manager for the Cornerstone Hospice Clermont region, is quick to point out that “national statistics indicate that eighty-five percent of veterans do not receive care through the VA healthcare system and that most veterans die in the communities where they live.” Sherri Craig, Social Worker for the Clermont area, adds that “networking with other veteran services will assist families in working together and joining the fabric of veteran support throughout the region. Social workers are entrusted with identifying every possible support for our veteran patients.”

 Joe Kennedy’s Hospice nurse, Teddy Palermo, RN, says that “…we take care of Mr. Kennedy’s medical needs and our mission is to have him enjoy a better quality of life.” Since 1984, Cornerstone Hospice, a community-based healthcare organization, has provided care and services to central Florida and Lake and Sumter residents and to American veterans experiencing a life-limiting or life-threatening illness.

 To learn more about Cornerstone Hospice, call (352)343-134, or toll-free (866)742-6655 or visit