Uniform salute

By Karen Zautyk 

Observer Correspondent 


Currently hanging in the office of Daniel Jacoby at the Nutley Bureau of Veteran Affairs, 149 Chestnut St., are two uniforms. One is Jacoby’s own camo garb, worn during the former U.S. Army specialist’s deployment in Iraq. The other is a bit older. Nearly a century old, in fact. It was worn during the war that was supposed to end all war.

Jacoby has displayed the two next to each other, but with the World War I uniform slightly in front of his, “to show respect for the generations that have gone before,” he explained.

The older uniform has breeches, resembling jodhpurs, that are laced at the bottom, the better to accomodate puttees and boots. The jacket bears a sergeant’s stripes and an embroidered caduceus, indicating that the wearer was a member of the Army Medical Corps.

That wearer was Sgt. Luke A. Kenney, who lived in Nutley from 1959 until his death at age 80 in 1973. It was his daughter, Pat Rush of Nutley, who donated the uniform to the Nutley Museum, to honor not only her father, but all veterans of the Great War. No date has yet been set, but sometime in the coming weeks there will be a special Historical Society ceremony, after which Kenney’s uniform will be permanently on display at the museum, 65 Church St.

Despite its age, the uniform is pristine, no apparent restoration necessary, despite the fact that, over all those decades, there were no special efforts to preserve it. “It was just hanging in his closet at home,” Rush told us.

Rush, who is a very young 83, decided to make the donation after attending a religious retreat, where she learned that a special retreat was being organized for veterans. She contacted Commissioner Steve Rogers about that planned program, and then offered the uniform as a veterans’ tribute.

Rush also has her father’s identity discs (the precursor of dogtags) and a collection of his military papers, but those treasures she is rightfully keeping to hand down to her children (she and her husband Robert had eight) and grandchildren.

The documents show that Luke Kenney of Newark, age 25, 5-foot-4, grey eyes, brown hair and “ruddy complexion,” was inducted into the Army on May 27, 1918, and was honorably discharged (also having been commended for his “excellent character”) on June 25, 1919 — the war having ended the previous November.

On Aug. 26, 1918, he had sailed for France, where he served as a medical technician with the American Expeditionary Forces. He arrived back in the U.S. on June 22, 1919. We don’t know at which port, but we assume it was New York. In any case, the Army noted that he was “entitled to a reduced fare to Newark.”

While in France, he became a corporal, on April 1, 1919, and was raised to the rank of sergeant exactly a month later. (Editor’s note: We don’t know his circumstances, but such rapid field promotions were not uncommon in World War I, the casualties among the troops being massive.)

Photos by Karen Zautyk Uniform details: Buttons bear Great Seal of the U.S.; below the sergeant's stripes is a caduceus, indicating Medical Corps.
Photos by Karen Zautyk
Uniform details: Buttons bear Great Seal of the U.S.; below the sergeant’s stripes is a caduceus, indicating Medical Corps.

“Did he ever talk about the war?” we asked Rush. “Very little,” she said.

“But he did talk about it being very cold. He had just two thin blankets, so he saved all his newspapers, including the Newark News, put them between the two blankets and stitched them all together.”

“He also talked about the Salvation Army,” she recalled. “He said that was the best group for coffee. He said the Knights of Columbus wouldn’t give you anything unless you paid for it.”

“And,” she added with a laugh, “he was a Knight!”

After returning to the States, Kenney and his wife, Marie, and their daughter lived in Newark and then Nutley. He worked for the City of Newark Water Department, retiring as superintendent.

Kenney was also active in veterans’ affairs, particularly the Newark chapter (Newark Barracks #90) of the Veterans of World War I, which had its headquarters in the Krueger Mansion on High St. (now called Martin Luther King Blvd.). Kenney became the commander and later served at the group’s chaplain, attending the wakes and funerals of all the deceased members.

At those wakes, the current Barracks #90 commander would offer a eulogy composed by Chaplain Kenney himself.

In part, it notes that the veterans in attendance were there “to pay our respects to a loyal, patriotic citizen whose service to his country deserves far more than our ability to give.”

It continues: “He contributed his bit, like other loyal Americans in the past, and the readiness to offer his life, if need be, to preserve for us those hard-earned rights of Freedom and Justice. . . .

“He assumed his duties in a strange land and risked exposure to the discomforts of war, hunger, disease and death.

“Yes, our buddy deserves far more than we here can offer.

“While we are but a few because of fast-diminishing ranks, there is nothing wanting in the sincerity of our grief at our buddy’s passing. May his soul rest in peace.”

On the back of this document, which is one of those Rush is keeping, she has penned a note for her family: “This eulogy was composed by your grandfather/greatgrandfather. How sincere, touching and well-written — by a gentleman who had an 8th grade education.”

And to us, she said, “I have always been so proud of my dad.”

Rightly so, Patsy.

Rightly so.

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