As a college student during the Vietnam War, Claudia Kennedy asked a lecturer what young people could do about American soldiers dying. He looked around, then said: "You can live every day of your life in honor of their sacrifice."
In her memoir, Generally Speaking, Kennedy explains how those words came back to her many times as she rose through the military ranks to become an intelligence officer and the Army's first female three-star general.
Chapter One: A Soldier's Daughter
I was born into the Army.
My father, Cary A. Kennedy, was a Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) cadet in his senior year at the University of Tennessee at Nashville when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. He was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Infantry and spent World War II in the European Theater of Operations. In 1946 he came home to Memphis, married my mother, Tommie Jean Haygood, and the young couple soon embarked-literally- on an Army career, taking a troopship to Germany.
As Daddy would later wryly tell us, he decided to stay in the Army because he was energetic enough to walk up stairs to a processing station on the second floor. When the war was over, offcers were given the choice of applying for a regular commission or mustering out. The line for immediate discharge, he said, formed on the first floor of an administration building, while there was another line of officers who wanted to stay in the service on the second floor. Daddy was a major. He liked the Army, but, given the option of remaining in the Infantry or selecting another branch, he chose the Transportation Corps.
I was born in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1947. A year later, my father sent Mother and me home to Memphis because the Cold War seemed about to flare into open conflict. The Soviets had cut off Allied ground access to Berlin. The West responded with the Berlin Airlift. Although tensions remained high for eleven months, the Soviets eventually relented and opened the land corridor to the Allied sectors of Berlin. But the Iron Curtain now divided Europe.
My father was reassigned to Fort Eustis, Virginia, on the James River near Williamsburg, headquarters of the Transportation Corps. Over the coming years, we would repeatedly return to this post. That's where my brother, Andy, and my sisters, Nancy and Elizabeth, were born, between assignments that took the family back to Germany, to Japan, and later even to Israel, where my father served as an assistant Army attaché.
Both my parents were strong influences on my character. Obviously, my father, a career soldier, formed my model of a professional officer. But my mother, Jean, has also always been a strong individual. She taught me that a woman could have independent political and social opinions at a time when Father Knows Best was as much a national ethos as popular entertainment. Almost fifty years later, I clearly remember an afternoon when she first made me aware that women could hold independent views on important issues.
It was early fall 1952, and the presidential election race between Democratic candidate Adlai Stevenson and Republican candidate Dwight Eisenhower was heating up. I was skipping rope in the yard and came inside to find Mama ironing and watching the grainy black-and-white image on the large screen of our light oak television set. It was Mr. Stevenson giving a speech.
"Who are we for, Mama?" I asked.