80-Year-Old Navy Vet Dreams of Planting Flags at Snelling Cemetery to Honor Parents — Then He Gets His Day

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It was a day to look forward to, definitely one to remember.

Minnesota Navy vet Kenny Jary was gushing tears when he learned he’d snagged a date with Fort Snelling National Cemetery to plant flags before countless rows of headstones, commemorating the fallen heroes of this land the day before Memorial Day.

Part of the reason for this was that Jary had been in the U.S. Navy from 1959 to 63, serving aboard USS Okinawa, a helicopter carrier, and that experience made an impression.

“My job was refueling helicopters,” he told The Epoch Times. “It wasn’t bad, but it was stinky, smelly, and loud — the ship. We were in some real rough weather and storms, but outside of that I loved it.”

That afforded Jary chances to sail the Atlantic from Norfolk to the blissful Caribbean for months at a time, of which he has fond memories.

Epoch Times Photo
(Courtesy of Patriotic Kenny)
Epoch Times Photo
(Courtesy of Patriotic Kenny)

The weather wasn’t quite so balmy on May 29, when he and a few good friends, his “angels,” set out for Snelling with bundles of mini American flags.

“It started off kind of gloomy in the morning, it rained and drizzled,” he said “And then the sun came out, and it was just like angels out of Heaven. It just got so nice.”

He added, “It hits home when you see those flags on each grave.”

Having just turned 80, Jary can’t walk like in his younger years; so his best bud Amanda got him a scooter for his birthday last January, which they brought to help with flag delivery that day.

She’d also made him famous on social media, highlighting his love of country and bequeathing him the handle “Patriotic Kenny” on his very own Instagram, where she posted a clip of her breaking the news of their big, pre-Memorial Day graveyard trip to him and he got “real emotional.” It went viral.

Apparently, the flag planting gig at the iconic cemetery is a big deal.

“I thought you could just go out here and put up the flags — oh no,” he said. “There’s a list they go by, you gotta sign up, and luckily they picked us. … You can go out to see somebody’s grave, but not to put flags on other graves.”

This was his first jaunt out, and it meant the world.

Jary’s scooter didn’t quite handle the soft grass as well as planned, but a little walking when he had to couldn’t stop him. They spent over four hours amidst the handsome headstones and put up 200 flags.

Besides his military service, there were other reasons for the patriotic pilgrimage; Jary’s uncle served in the Navy. “He was in during Pearl Harbor,” Jary said. “He was on a ship, he was on a destroyer, and he was lucky he didn’t get killed.” Jary’s late brother served in Vietnam. Both men were buried here.

Patriotic Kenny’s parents, who passed away in their early 60s, were here, too. His dad, Joseph, once guarded German prisoners in the Army during World War II, Jary said, and then returned home to work in construction. Joseph and his wife, Janet — who worked at a hotel coat check her whole life — instilled patriotism in their children.

“I was basically raised that way,” said Jary, a middle child. “Being very respectful and to be nice, that comes from my parents.

“Ever since my folks died, my brother, I’ve always wanted to go out there and put flags up. To me, that is such an honor. … I go to Vet’s Park — every day I try and do it, and just sit there and meditate, all the ones who lost their lives.”

Epoch Times Photo
(Courtesy of Patriotic Kenny)
Epoch Times Photo
(Courtesy of Patriotic Kenny)

Lauding his military brothers and sisters, and the freedom they afforded us, he added, “We should be so proud … I want to pay it forward and do whatever I can for the veterans, everyone.

“That’s my goal, pay it forward.”

Born in St. Paul, Minnesota, Jary went from the Navy to working at the Twin Cities Ford plant for 32 years, retiring in 1997 before the plant’s final closure in 2011. He’s now long retired, of course, and calls the beach suburb of Mahtomedi, near While Bear Lake, home.

Jary then met Amanda and pals Jerry and Jenny — collectively known as “the crew” — at a local coffee shop; they’ve been hanging out, helping each other out, and partaking in patriotic events ever since. While the VA is “good,” he said, friends make it better.

“They’re my family, I ‘adopted’ every one of them,” added Jary, who’s been cruising his scooter in patriotic parades lately, handing out candy to kids.

What’s next for Kenny Jary and the crew? The Lake Elmo Fourth of July Parade’s coming up. Will that make Patriotic Kenny’s Instagram? “Oh yes,” he said. “Instagram, TikTok, everything.”

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