A Remembrance: Master Sgt Latisha Kennedy, a 20 Year Veteran of the U.S Air Force

May 24, 2012

There are more women serving in the U.S military now than ever before.  In fact, more than 255,000 women have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan in the last decade. They may be your neighbor or your co-worker but their stories often aren't told.

As part of our ongoing Coming Home Series, WNPR's Lucy Nalpathanchil has a remembrance of a Seymour veteran who served in the U.S Air Force.

41-year old Master Sergeant Latisha Kennedy joined the Air Force right after high school.

Her mother Dorothy Gandy says her daughter was always independent and didn't want to burden her parents with paying for college.

"She enlisted Nov 2, 1989. When she completed her six years she said, 'Mom, I think I'm going to continue to stay in here, this way it will give me the chance to see the world and complete my education,' and that's what she did."

Kennedy served two tours in Iraq. She was an Engineering Craftsman who worked on construction projects. Her mother remembers stories her daughter told about the noise from bombings and hostile fire, but other than that Kennedy didn't talk a lot about her time in Iraq.

"Oh my god, I said 'I'm glad you didn't because I would have been worried sick', you know? But she made it through all of that."

After finishing her Iraq deployments, Latisha Kennedy was stationed in Korea.

"I called her Tish. Dorothy used to always call her Latisha...."

Her godmother, Maria Wilson remembers Kennedy as a shy little girl. Wilson enjoyed watching her grow into an independent and hard working woman. She often listened for advice from Wilson's husband, a retired Airman.

"She and my husband would talk for hours at a time about her career. It was hard for her being a woman you know going into the Air Force. He encouraged her a lot. She was determined nothing was going to stop her."

After twenty years with the Air Force, Kennedy decided it was time to retire.

She moved in with her parents in February of 2010 while she looked for work. Her father, Timothy Gandy is a retired Marine. He remembers one of the first things she did when she got back to Connecticut.

"She was going to purchase a car, a Honda Fit. And paid cash for it. And then she got a stick shift of all things. I said 'why you getting a stick shift, no GPS, no nothing. She said 'I'm used to driving them big trucks in the Air Force.'

He often asked her to put on her uniform.

"I want to see all the ribbons. You know being an ex military man that's how proud I was of her. But when you get home you want to look like everyone else. She wouldn't put that uniform on, you know."

It took two years for Kennedy to find a job. In February, she was hired by Unilever in Trumbull. Her mother says she quickly made her mark.

"They loved her! Her boss was a retired veteran too. And he told the story to all of her Costco sales team, well when Tish came in they had five team members and everybody wanted her. So they flipped a coin and he said I got her, I got Latisha!"

Everything was falling into place for Kennedy until recently when her mother said she complained of shortness of breath. She suggested her daughter go to the emergency room but Kennedy insisted she was okay.

"You know Sunday, you know Mothers Day. I looked in when I was going to church and I said, 'Hey, how you feeling today?' 'I'm okay.' And then I got the call."

Kennedy had collapsed at home. She had stopped breathing. At the hospital, medical staff could not revive her.

Her family is waiting for the coroners report to find out why Kennedy who they describe as a health freak passed away so suddenly.

Sitting around their dining room table, her father Timothy Gandy talks about his daughter's funeral.

Gandy, Sr: "They brought in special pallbearers from McGuire Air Force Base. And they were looking sharp. Then they had the Taps and the firing of the weapons. And they gave us the spent casings. We got the flag now we gotta get a shadow box. The taps, they were so sad."

Dorothy: 'But she did a lot in her forty-one years. She accomplished a lot in her 41 years."

Master Sergeant Latisha Kennedy is buried at New Pine Grove Cemetary in Waterbury.

for WNPR, I'm Lucy Nalpathanchil