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This page by Jon Kennedy

A Death in the Family

And how it forever
changed our lives


Older brother adds his memories
on 'Death in the Family'

Letter No. 121 | June 16, 1999

Webmaster's note: My eldest brother, Tom Kennedy, wrote the following observations after reading my essay on the tragic death of our brother, Gary, in 1957. I received his permission to publish his thoughts as a corrective to my faulty memory. I have, since receiving this, corrected the reference to victims' bodies being "mangled." The one point I'm sticking to is that I still think the funeral was on Monday, Labor Day, and I have subsequently received hard evidence by way of the Johnstown newspaper of September 3, 1957, which included the report and obituary. Tom is also right that we boys gave our Dad a bum rap, always easier to understand in hindsight. óJon Kennedy

Dear Jon:

I thought you did a fantastic job of writing ["A Death in the Family"]. If I may, I would like to interject some of my memories which in some cases are a little different than yours. You, for example, stated that recognition of the bodies was difficult because of the mangling. As I recall, it was more due to being burned. I always said it was ironic that Gary had survived being nearly killed by fire at the age of 4 and then to have his body burned beyond recognition at 19. I'm quite sure he did not die of burning, however, because they all must surely have died on impact.

Also you stated that you boys and Dad were never close but as I remember it, Dad and Gary were good buddies. They did a lot of work together on the farm and Dad took him hunting, etc., and Gary seemed to think very highly of him when he lived with us. I don't think the funeral was actually on Labor Day, either, because Sally and I had to get there and I think it was held off just a short time hoping we might hear from Bob [our other brother]. Bob was on the road in his trucking job and could not be reached and if I remember correctly he just happened to stop at the farm a couple hours after the funeral.

I, too, think about that occurrence frequently and sadly. Gary was a nice boy and we enjoyed having him with us. I had just cosigned for him to buy that pretty Ford and when Dad called and told me he was "killed last night," I was not only shocked at that news but immediately wondered how that would afffect my signing. Dad immediately told me that the accident was not in Gary's new car!

Anyway, I agree that that happening changed us all somewhat. It was the first time I had ever seen Dad cry and I'll never forget feeling surprise that he could feel love for one of us to that extent. Let me say parenthetically, though, that I have come to think in later years that Dad got somewhat of a bad rap from us boys.... I've thought often about how he never hesitated to let me get my learner's permit, taught me how to hunt and always took me anytime I wanted to go. He went and signed for me to enter the Navy and seemed to understand why I wanted to go so badly, etc. Besides all that, he certainly deserves a lot of credit for faithfully going to work in one of the most dangerous and horrible environments imaginable to support his family. I could go on but maybe you get my point! Guess I've bent your “eyes" long enough.

So long,
Brother Tom

Below is a partial photocopy of the Tribune-Democrat coverage of September 3 1957, with a computer-enhanced photo of the wrecked car from that paper.

Daily newspaper coverage


photo of wrecked car in same paper


Though I remembered it as the Labor Day edition of the Tribune-Democrat, actually at that time the T-D did not publish on US Mail holidays.

© 2000, JRK