After our limousine passed through the gates of Arlington Cemetery, I looked to the left and saw two parents visiting their son or daughter. They sat in lawn chairs in front of a grave. It wasn’t the “the missing man” formation of planes that flew over my head, that made me cry. It wasn’t the horse drawn casket that vanished against the silhouette of trees that made me sad. The men with guns, who shot toward the sky in tribute, began to haunt me. It was the sacrifice, and pain of loss that saddened me. All these men and women around me gave their lives for this country. I was sad for their parents, wives and children. My father was old when he passed away. He lived a long and successful life. Most of the service people buried in Arlington did not have that same opportunity. This is what my father would communicate, if he had been there.
Charles Bernard Kenning, Attorney at Law was buried in Arlington Cemetery with full military honors in February of 2009. He was unbending, unyielding and strong. He would remind us that freedom is always at stake; he would ask that you respect the law.
Lesser lawyers learn to isolate, manipulate and alter truths; however, Charles Kenning believed that in truth there is no compromise. Our Founding Fathers fought against tyranny with truth, values, compassion and the rule law. He believed that these men created the greatest Democracy in history. Our Founding Fathers, were great intellects. Many of them were not only statesmen, but also they were presidents of universities, lawyers and fathers.
They studied, sought and fought for ideals like justice and individual freedom and human dignity. It this history that carved the United States of America out of worlderness. It is this framework that created a people who possess the power to vote, work, and speak freely in the pursuit of happiness. Charles Kenning would ask us not to let our pontiffs blind us with mistruth, taxes, misinterpretations of law. Unpaid bills, and rewritten rules that will lead our children into an era of economic, political and social slavery.
This message was consistent with his actions. Charles B. Kenning was shot down over Germany on his 23rd mission in 1944. In prison camp he was mindful of American rights, and explained the Geneva Convention to his captors. All that was left to guard his camp, at that point in his war experience, were young scared German boys with big guns. My father was fortunate to speak German.
Like our forefathers Charles Kenning fought for democracy and the rights of the individual. On departing from prison camp, “Life Magazine” captured and published a picture of the event that marked his exit. With crutches in hand, he tore down the Nazi flag. It was this picture that alerted his mother, who was thousands of miles away-her son was alive. With spirit intact, he was coming home. Sonny-boy, as Nana would call him, would tell you that we must honor, maintain and respect conventions of law and our constitution.
Charles B. Kenning graduated from Georgetown University and passed several bar exams that were being offered around the D.C. beltway shortly, thereafter. The screw that was drilled through his leg to shore up his ankle, during the war, did not hinder his forward momentum. It was this tenacity with which he approached his love for freedom. In life his spirits were unhampered. In sickness and in-near death, he did not complain.
Charles B. Kenning was a collector. He collected cars, boats and books. Few people know that he owned each and every law book that West Publishing Company ever produced.. They meticulously lined thousands of square feet of law library in our house. As a teenager, I remember learning that this was strange. Friends came to play, and then they later returned in groups for the library tour, and to shop for snacks. I soon learned never to invite people to that portion of the house. I didn’t want to be different; every other house in Pittsford was not built on foundation that mirrored an underground city equipped with libraries, and fall-out shelters stocked with food.
In college, my sisters and I started calling this portion of our home “Chuck’s-Mart”. The prices were right, after all. Anyone could find a free book, or feed the entire dorm if need-be. There was no need for a blue-light special on Old Farm Circle. He never noticed missing books or groceries. The unwashed and hungry masses that passed through our doors appreciated this oversight.
When my father became disabled, his beloved library was moved to Albany, New York, and became the better portion of a law library for students. He would have liked to join them in study. After law school, he taught Law at John Fisher College. He was the type of teacher that wanted students to read and actively debate issues. When arguing a point with Charles Kenning, however, you had better have your facts straight. He was not an easy teacher.
If Professor Kenning were alive today he would ask students to read the bills that Congress proposes. He would invite his students to actively debate issues. He would want precedence and contrasting positions justiposed. Professor Kenning would have been disappointed by a government, and a people who did do their reading. Congressmen, who do not read proposed bills, have equally appalled him. He was not a compromising person, or an easy man.
I could imagine Mr. Kenning saying something like; “Some proponents of rewriting and creating new laws have learned that, in chaos, there is opportunity. But in true freedom, there is only rule of law.” My father would say that truth cannot be masked in proposed bills and in revisionist history. Our history is clear, our founders were direct and our agenda as a people are predestined. It is our duty, our right and our privilege to live in freedom and uphold the constitution. As leaders we must hold our lawmakers, politicians, and families to high standards.
Charles B. Kenning did not gray the truth to gain political power, popularity, fame or financial gain. He was a student of American History. who believed in upholding the law. He had a great love and respect for the constitution. He would ask that you look forward to protecting your children and future generations with the very same document. He was unyielding in this belief.
My sister recounts a conversation that he would have with his children. It would start out as a question; “Did you do your best?” If you answered “Yes”, there was more to follow “… if that is the best that you can do, you have done enough.” He would then add the twist; “Now go help someone else do it better”. He was unwavering and stubborn.