Thomas J. Kennedy Jr., veteran
Disabled veteran founded Charles Village office supply business
Thomas J. Kennedy Jr., who while fighting with the Marines in the South Pacific during World War II was blinded by enemy fire and after his return to Baltimore established Dawn's Office Supply, died of cancer at his Mount Washington home. He was 86. (Irving H. Phillips, Baltimore Sun / February 17, 2005)
He was 86.
Mr. Kennedy was born and raised on his family's Kingsville farm. Growing up, he developed a lifelong love of horses while helping his father on his horse-drawn milk wagon.
In his youth, he worked as a Western Union messenger boy, exercised racehorses on a Monkton farm and was a Pep Boys stock clerk.
After his parents divorced, his mother raised her five children single-handedly. He later attended Polytechnic Institute for a year, and after turning 16, tried to enlist in the Marine Corps.
"Ever since I can remember, I wanted to be a Marine. One day when I was 7 years old, while shopping with my mother, I spied a Marine and ran over to him and asked him a million questions, and told my mother that someday I'd be a Marine too," Mr. Kennedy wrote in a recently discovered letter from the 1940s.
Mr. Kennedy's mother refused to give her permission for her son to join the Marines, so after forging his mother's name, he enlisted at the old Post Office on North Calvert Street.
He was sent to the South Pacific as a member of the 3rd Marine Regiment, 3rd Division.
After attending Mass on Christmas morning in 1943, the young corporal entered combat at Bougainville in the Solomon Islands and was blinded by enemy fire to his face.
"I was delivered into the depths of darkness by a Japanese 'booby trap' — a hand grenade," he wrote in the letter. "I thought that all life had ended for me because what good was living without my eyes. A short time later, a buddy found me groping around in the dark and helped me back to the beach, where a plane picked me up and took me to Guadalcanal."
"He spent the rest of his life until the day he died picking out pieces of shrapnel from his face," said his brother, Steven G. Kennedy, who also lives in Mount Washington.
While recuperating at a Navy hospital in Northern California, Mr. Kennedy, who had been awarded a Purple Heart, met and fell in love with Bette Lance, a pharmacist's mate from Oneonta, N.Y., who worked there.
Even though she asked the young Marine to attend a hospital dance, Mr. Kennedy was reluctant to fall in love because "I felt a man without sight had no chance with girls," he wrote. "This was a mistake — that dance started a wonderful friendship with Bette."
The couple married on Dec. 29, 1944. Two months before his marriage, he entered and graduated from the Seeing Eye Institute in Morristown, N.J., where he was given Dawn, a German shepherd.
He earned his General Educational Development certificate and studied at Strayer's Business College before going to work as a salesman for Stationers Inc., where he and Dawn called on clients.
"He was subsequently fired by the owner, who told him, 'I love you, Tom, but there are many thousands of items in this business, and you need your eyes to be successful,'" said his brother.
In 1946, with $300 in cash, Mr. Kennedy went into business for himself after purchasing a used trailer for $100 and inventory with the remaining funds.
He named his office supply company after his dog, Dawn, and later mounted replicas of the German shepherd's head on the roofs of his trucks and on his office stationery. Dawn died in 1954.
His first location was an empty lot on Gwynns Falls Parkway, and then he moved to a basement room in the Royalton apartments on the 1900 block of Maryland Ave.