Joseph Kernan spent time as the Governor of Indiana, and the Mayor of South Bend, but only now has he earned a permanent place in history as a Hoosier Patriot.
“This is an extraordinary honor for Maggie and me and I'm grateful, thank you,” Kernan said to a standing ovation today at the Indiana War Memorial.
Some 200 people attended ceremonies to dedicate Hoosier Patriot exhibits to Kernan and former Governor Edgar Whitcomb.
Both men spent time as prisoners of war before dabbling in politics.
Both men are now being singled out as inspirational examples of people who put service before self.
“It brings back some memories, flying around with people shooting at you but again, I’m one of the fortunate ones that I was able to come home,” said Kernan. Kernan’s plane was shot down in Vietnam in May of 1969.
Before Kernan attended today’s dedication ceremonies, he stopped a couple of blocks down to look at Indiana’s Vietnam Memorial.
Kernan said the 1,500 Hoosiers labeled missing in action are the ones who should be honored.
20 years ago, Kernan chaired the commission that raised funds to build the Vietnam Memorial. “I think the responsibility that we have is to remember those that didn’t come home,” said Kernan.
While Kernan earned a reputation as someone who would give you the shirt off his back, that’s exactly what he did to complete his War Memorial exhibit.
On display is the maroon and gray striped uniform Kernan wore during his 11 months as a prisoner at the Hanoi Hilton. “When we left the Vietnamese gave us a duffel bag and we were able to throw in clothing,” said Kernan. “It’s been in a box, it’s been in a box, I’ve lost some of the stuff.”
Kernan’s exhibit also includes a photograph of the Vietnamese man who shot down Kernan’s plane, and an oil painting of the plane itself that has traveled with Kernan from office to office as he job hopped his way to the top. “It was always in my office because Maggie wouldn't let me bring it home, and so this was a good place to send it.”
While Kernan’s story is unique, it is not unprecedented. Now 96 year old Edgar Whitcomb was held captive in the Pacific during World War II.
Both Kernan and Whitcomb have now earned a permanent place in Indiana history through their Hoosier Pariot exhibits.
“For me, it’s probably the most important experience of my life and I pretty much don’t sweat the small stuff, you know. What are you going to do? Send me back to Vietnam? No, and again I’m so fortunate to get out of the airplane without really getting banged up, getting captured without getting banged up too badly, and make it through my time in jail, and I’m a lucky guy.”