Iona College Hears Message of an American Hero

1st Lieutenant Andrew Kinard lost his legs in a roadside bomb explosion in Iraq, but that has not stopped the Purple Heart recipient from pursuing a joint degree at Harvard and inspiring New Rochelle with his story.

On a Sunday in 2006, eight Marines were on foot patrol in southern Iraq when a improvised explosive device—or roadside bomb—exploded directly under the feet of 1st Lieutenant Andrew Kinard.

He became known as a one-in-a-million Marine because of his slim chance of survival. But after a month-long coma, near-death experiences and 74 surgeries, he is alive and well.

Kinard spent Wednesday evening at talking to the New Rochelle community. He shared his story of perseverance and shed light on the dark realities of veterans returning home from the War in Iraq.

After the roadside bomb detonated, both of Kinard’s legs had to be amputated to the extent of having just one joint in his right leg and none in his left. During a time where he seemed to have lost everything, he found a purpose—a purpose that he said that is bigger than him.

“Looking down in the hospital room with tubes coming out of my mouth and nose … and seeing this empty void where my legs used to be and picturing this new form of me,” Kinard said. “I realized it’s not what I lost that mattered but what I still had.”

And what he still had was his will to live—inspired by a Marine clerk who saved his life on the plane coming to the United States.

Kinard said the clerk looked him over to make sure everything was OK because he didn’t think it was.

“When he looked closer, he noticed the clamp on my artery had become dislodged on the impact of the landing and I was bleeding out right before his eyes,” he said. “He could’ve walked away and said this isn’t my job, but he didn’t. He said let me make a difference here.”

Kinard said he is thanking that clerk through serving as a role model and exemplifying his message that one should always prepare for the unexpected.

“The nature of these things [roadside bombs] is you never see them coming,” he said. “You’re walking along one day and lightning strikes.”

The bomb changed the course of his life but he has decided he will still try to make an impact on the world. He is currently in the process of completing a joint degree from Harvard Law School as well as Harvard Business School while serving on the board of directors for the Wounded Warrior Project, an organization that provides veterans with what they need through legislative lobbying and programs.

Kinard’s awards and decorations include the Purple Heart, Navy Achievement Medal with Combat “V” and the Combat Action Ribbon, among others.

Iona College President Dr. Joseph Nyre said Kinard shed light on subjects students might not be aware of.

“He helps our students understand the sacrifice individuals make,” Nyre said, “because freedom is not free, and he gives perspective to students how to overcome hardships.”

Not all sacrifices are as visual as Kinard’s. In his speech, he created awareness for the veterans who suffer in silence.

“I had it easy,” Kinard said. “I get credit for what I’ve done. But the difficulty is with guys who are dealing with a whole lot, mentally and emotionally. And yet they don’t look any different from any other guy walking down the street.”

He is referring to post traumatic stress disorder. He said more than 300,000 veterans have had to face psychological trauma after returning home. PTSD has claimed the lives of numerous veterans, including one of Kinard’s comrades and friend, who suffered brain damage from the explosion and committed suicide a month before the five-year anniversary of the attack.

Among those listening to Kinard was Jim Murphy, a veteran and a member of the American Legion in New Rochelle, who believes “war illiteracy” is a contributing factor to the high rate of veterans suffering from PTSD.  

He explained what “war illiteracy” was: “It’s the total disconnect from the war. A vast majority of [the] civilian population doesn’t follow the events [of the Iraq War].” His point is that returning veterans with physical or psychological trauma are not embraced by the general public as much as they should be.

This makes local veteran organizations such as Veterans of Foreign Wars and United Veterans of New Rochelle crucial, Murphy said, because they connect veterans with the community and provide a place where veterans can gather to meet and talk with other veterans.

Kinard story of finding a higher purpose in the darkest of times left an impression on Iona College senior Annmarie Stepancic, 21, of Olivebridge.

She called Kinard an inspiration and thought his focus on attitude, especially during failure, was insightful, adding it was an honor and a privilege to hear him spead at the college.

“As college students who strive to do our best whether it be in the classroom, on the field, or whatever our interest,” Stepancic said. “I think we forget that failure is necessary to succeed. It is during failure, as Lt. Kinard noted, that we discover ourselves and appreciate the many blessings we have in our lives.”


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