By Linda Borg
BRISTOL, R.I. — A Bristol native who died serving in Afghanistan was honored Sunday for his patriotism on one of the country’s most patriotic streets.
More than 200 people along with Gov. Gina Raimondo and the entire congressional delegation turned out to dedicate the Bristol Post Office on Hope Street in memory of 1st Sgt. P. Andrew McKenna Jr.
“It’s wonderful we should be here on this most patriotic street in America,” said U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse. “Go forward 100 years. A child will come through the post office doors and ask, ‘Who was Sergeant McKenna?’ and his mother will say, ‘Let’s look it up.’ And his memory will be revived again, as it should be.”
When terrorists breached his defensive perimeter with a truck bomb in Kabul on Aug. 7, 2015, McKenna ran toward attackers, helping to repulse them while losing his own life. He was posthumously awarded the Silver Star, the third-highest military honor, and the Purple Heart. A Green Beret assigned to the 7th Special Forces Group, he was deployed overseas six times, and received the Bronze Star during his first tour in Afghanistan.
“We owe him the debt of gratitude forever,” Raimondo said. “How many of us would have run toward fire, toward danger? His humility was the most distinguished thing about him. He did it because it was the right thing to do.”
McKenna always wanted to be a soldier.
As a child, he rarely took off his “Army” uniform, and friends remembered how he organized the neighborhood kids into one band of brothers or another.
“From the youngest age, he wanted to be a soldier,” said Robert McKenna of Bristol, a cousin. “He’d gather the local kids and off they’d go on their mission.”
McKenna traveled far from home during his nearly 20 years of service, but he never forgot what made Bristol special.
Three years ago, he was honored at the Bristol Fourth of July parade for traveling the farthest — from Afghanistan — to his hometown. The town bestowed an American flag that had once flown above the White House.
A month later, he was gone.
His mother, Carol McKenna, was a bit overwhelmed by this latest tribute, which was hardly the first. A stretch of Route 114 between the Warren Bridge and the Mount Hope Bridge has been renamed in his honor. A monument sits in front of the Bristol VFW Club.
“If he was here, he’d say, ‘I can’t believe people are doing this,’” said Carol McKenna. “I have mixed emotions. I’d give all of this up in a heartbeat…. He was a special man.”
Even those who didn’t know McKenna personally had some connection to his family. The mother whose son, an Eagle Scout, helped build the monument on Hope Street. The neighbor who has a photograph of him as a little boy, dressed in his uniform.
“It’s a small town,” Pam Meyer said. “People come out.”
Sgt. Maj. Calvin Boersma served with McKenna in Afghanistan. He said Andrew saved his life.
Boersma described the boyish side of McKenna, the young soldier who liked to tear up North Carolina on his motorcycle, the guy who gave friends a thumbs-up if he liked their girlfriends.
But he also recalled a man who was fiercely loyal, no matter how far away his buddies were. When one soldier was in a bad way, McKenna showed at his house and forced him to get out of bed and go outside. The friend later described that encounter as a turning point.
“He loved his town and his country,” Boersma said. “His patriotism was driven by how he grew up. I don’t think there could be a better place in the world to commemorate him.”