Defenders of Freedom

Francis Kennedy: They had to invent their own equipment

EDITOR’S NOTE: Today the Sun-Gazette continues a weekly series on the men and women who risk everything to defend our nation and the freedom of others in this world through military service. If you know of such a story, contact us by email at news@sungazette.com or call 570-326-1551.)

Francis Kennedy had never gone skiing before he became a member of the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division.

Stationed in the high hills of Italy, the unit was comprised of soldiers trained to ski and fight the Germans during World War II.

And fight they did.

Kennedy, in fact, was shot in the leg and wounded.

“He was crawling down the mountain to get to medics when he got shot,” Kennedy’s daughter, Evelyn Stoviak, said.

After being shot, he dragged one man out of the line of fire.

Kennedy received various commendations for his heroic efforts, including the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart.

“He was in the hospital and (General) Eisenhower actually handed him his medals,” Stoviak said.

His family noted that Kennedy often talked about accepting those medals from the Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces in Europe, a man who later served two terms as U.S. President.

Kennedy was born in 1923 and grew up in Driftwood, Cameron County.

He was at Mount Alto, a forestry school affiliated with Penn State University, when he enlisted in the Army in 1943 with the intent to serve with a ski division, despite having never gone down a hill with planks strapped to his feet.

“He didn’t know how to ski,” his wife, Jeanine Kennedy, said.

Leaving college, he joined the Army and soon underwent training in Colorado and also Texas for combat and ski training.

At the time, fighting military units such as the 10th Mountain Division were rare if non-existent in the U.S. military.

“They had to invent their own equipment,” Stoviak said.

The men dressed in all white to blend in with the surrounding snowy terrain and keep somewhat hidden from the enemy.

Among more notable people who served with the 10th Mountain Division, she said, was Bob Dole, who later became a U.S. senator and made an unsuccessful run for President.

Kennedy never met Dole, however.

After being wounded, Kennedy was sent back to the states to a hospital in West Virginia to recover. He eventually returned to college and and ended up working as a district forester in Lycoming County for many years. Kennedy died in 1997.

“He was very easygoing,” his wife said. “The only time he got stressed out was during fire season.”

She further described her late husband as a man “everybody liked.”

Kennedy continued skiing in civilian life. His daughter noted that he served on the ski patrol at Oregon Hill, now the site of Ski Sawmill. He also enjoyed going deer hunting.

“He used to hunt rabbits too and turkey,” Stoviak said.

Kennedy was also instrumental, his family said, in the building of Rider Park near Warrensville.

His brief time serving overseas never left Kennedy. He returned to Italy three times over the years with his wife and often attended Army reunions.

She said he was very proud of his military service. Often, he would rehash his time serving in the Army with fellow comrades.