From the line at Señor Barber to the booming sounds of artillery echoing from Camp Pendleton, the United States Marine Corps presence is embedded in San Clemente. Members of the military have made countless sacrifices to provide citizens of the US with protection and peace of mind from some of life’s worst potential tragedies. Whether it’s watching San Clemente sunsets that look like they belong on the Sistine Chapel ceiling, or enjoying a peaceful walk down Del Mar to the pier; we owe it to our heroes for protecting our freedoms.
One San Clemente local knows service and sacrifice all too well. Colonel Jeffery J. Kenny is a 41-year Marine Corps veteran. A loving father, husband, and leader to his fellow Marines, Colonel Kenny is the epitome of an American hero.
Growing up playing with toy guns, military action figures, and watching war movies, it was clear from a young age Kenny was going to serve. On June 25th 1975, the 17-year-old kid from Hartford, Connecticut opted to forgo his ROTC scholarships to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and College of the Holy Cross to enlist in the Marines. Despite the offer to attend prestigious universities, Kenny had what he referred to as “the bug,” and he couldn’t deny the itch he had to serve. Two weeks later, he sailed off to Paris Island to begin his recruit training.
Colonel Kenny began his career as a private and worked his way up seven of the nine enlisted ranks to Gunnery Sergeant. After completing what would have been a career for most marines, Kenny continued his career from the bottom of the officer ranks. Already 17 years into his career, Kenny was promoted six times through the officer ranks until he reached the final rank he would ever hold, Colonel. Over the course of his illustrious 41-year career, Colonel Kenny held a total of 13 ranks.
While Colonel Kenny is a well decorated veteran, the prestigious hardware he pins on every promotion does not come without sacrifice. In 2006, his Humvee was hit by an IED. The tragedy was heartbreaking to Kenny, who lost a Colonel in the Iraqi army, and injured two of his Marines. Kenny was in critical condition with 33 fractures in areas from his ribs to his skull, and was in a coma for a week. The Marine Corps quickly transported him to Bethesda hospital in Maryland where he stayed for a few months before being transported to Palo Alto for brain trauma.
Looking back on the life changing experience, Kenny can remember the moments leading up to the accident. He recalls not being able to tell the difference between dreams and memories in the hospital, and members of his family said he would mention historical figures in his sleep. Being the man he is, Kenny insisted he was fine and tried to cover the injuries he had endured. In spite of the immense pain he was in, he was in high spirits, cracking jokes like his normal self, but fearing if he would ever be able to serve again.
During Kenny’s time in the hospital, his family rallied around him to provide the love and support he needed. Like many military families, the pain and sacrifice that comes with the military creates a close bond between each member of the family. Colonel Kenny’s pain was his family’s pain, and during the time he was recovering, two of his boys joined the Marine Corps.
The Colonel was home with his family, recovering from his wounds, and with two boys in uniform out to defend his honor, but questions loomed in the back of Kenny’s mind. “Will I ever be ok? Will I ever be the man I used to be? Will I ever get to put the uniform back on? Will I ever be able to serve again?” Tough, resilient, militaristic, funny: name any characteristic you want to try to characterize Kenny but at the root of his being is a man with a deep love to serve.
Modern people may stub their toe and want two weeks off with worker’s comp for their injuries. But after 33 fractures, four broken vertebrae, fluid in his brain, and being in a coma for a week, Kenny says he still feels like he owes the military. After five months of recovery, he battled not only for his life, but for his uniform. In September of 2006, Major Kenny put on his uniform and went back to his Marines.
After his return to the Marine Corps, Kenny went on to serve for a decade. During his next 10 years of service, he was promoted twice: Lieutenant Colonel and Colonel. Although the last years of his service to the Marine Corps were spent making critical decisions and being a part of the solution, Kenny is the kind of Marine that loves to have his boots on the ground, being a warrior. On December 21st, 2016, Colonel Jeffery J. Kenny wore the Marine Corps uniform for the last time after more than 41 years of service.
Looking back on his time serving our country, Kenny said, “I still owe the Marine Corps. I have gotten way more from the Marine Corps then I was able to put in. I’ll always be grateful. I thank God there is such a thing as the United States Marine Corps. Otherwise, what would I be?”
" I thank God there is such a thing as the United States Marine Corps. Otherwise, what would I be?”