To say that I knew Sen. Edward Kennedy well would be a stretch. I had a handful of experiences with him over the last five years, but certainly not to the extent that one would expect the overwhelming loss and sadness I have felt since his death.
Our relationship dates back to Fall 2003 when I was a midshipman candidate at the Naval Academy Prep School in Newport, R.I. Facing typical challenges, I was ready to transfer to a different school. Recognizing this, my folks contacted Senator Kennedy with the hope that he would provide support and a fresh point of view.
I was later surprised to receive a package from "The Office of Senator Edward M. Kennedy." The contents revealed a handwritten, personal note in which the senator offered his gratefulness for my service and a suggestion to give the military a chance. Along with the note was a framed portrait embossed with, "DH, thank you for your service. With my best wishes, Ted Kennedy."
As the years passed, I kept in touch with the senator via e-mail. Each of my e-mails was acknowledged with one from him. These were personal notes - not the antiseptic responses of a distant staffer.
I spent time with the senator in spring of my senior year at the Academy, escorting him on his visit to the Yard. After his speech, we discussed the Academy and Boston Bruins hockey. I mentioned the portrait and the e-mails we shared. He looked at me with a warm smile that signaled deep familiarity.
We were in touch following the diagnosis of his brain cancer. In a note, I offered my prayers and best wishes. True to form, I received a letter from the senator less than two weeks later. He assured me that he and his wife were grateful to have such great friends and well wishers.
Senator Kennedy later invited me to join him at President Obama's inauguration. I brought the note to Capt, John Funk, my commanding officer of the USS Bonhomme Richard, who quickly said "Donnie, you're going - and that's an order."
In trying to come to terms with Senator Kennedy's death, I am struck by his genuine affinity for other human beings. He connected with folks on a personal level. His legislative record reflects this love of humanity, as Senator Kennedy built his reputation championing civil rights, education, health care, and other social programs. Not surprisingly, Senator Kennedy's love for people manifested in his love for the troops. He passionately supported additional funding for mine-resistant armored vehicles, enhanced body armor, care for wounded warriors, help for military families and better pay.
Though he embodied a celebrity status few can ever achieve, Senator Kennedy relished connecting with people on a personal level. This was the essence of the man.
In coming to terms with Senator Kennedy's death, I am struck by his affinity for human beings. He relished connecting with people on a personal level. This was the essence of the man. I miss him greatly.
Donald Howard Horner, III
U.S. Naval Academy Class of '08
Ensign, U.S. Navy