VFW Post 3208 Member Cpl. Nathan Kemnitz Honored, Dishonored?, and Honored Again

Assembly Member Chris Holden and Corporal Nathan Kemnitz at the State Assembly, photo courtesy of Assembly Member Holden's office. Click to enlarge

Posted 7/11/13 – Corporal Nathan Kemnitz of VFW Post 3208 was recently honored at the State Assembly by Assemblyman Chris Holden (D-Pasadena) as the 41st Assembly District’s Veteran of the Year, and a few days later he was honored again with the rest of Post 3208 when they served as Grand Marshals of Sierra Madre’s 4th of July parade.  But in between these honors, his treatment at Sacramento Airport and at the State house left a little to be desired.

Corporal Kemnitz is a recipient of the Purple Heart, a disabled veteran who has lost the use of his right arm and can’t see out of his right eye.  At the Post’s Veteran’s Day Ceremony last November, he spoke about the IED that injured him, requiring 25 surgeries while still not returning the use of his arm.  He discussed his struggles in dealing with it, including battling an addiction to painkillers and alcohol, and fighting depression and anger.  At the time, this is what we wrote about his speech: Last to speak was Nathan Kemnitz, who served in Iraq and was wounded in Fallujah, losing the sight in his right eye, and the use of his right hand, arm and shoulder.  He discussed losing his best friend when an IED exploded, causing his injuries and leading to 25 surgeries over two and a half years of treatment at Bethesda Naval Hospital.  He discussed the sudden loss of the feeling of camaraderie that he felt with his fellow Marines, “I was on a patrol one day, and the next thing I knew – lights out.”   He told of the difficulty of coping with his injuries “Like anybody who doesn’t cope well, I started abusing my pain killers that the hospital gave me, started drinking too much…I pretty much lived in this anger and bitter state for years…I was  angry because at the same time I got injured, I wanted to go back over with my friends, one of my friends went over and did two more tours and I wanted to do that, but I couldn’t.  I didn’t feel like a man, I didn’t feel like a Marine, I was just an injured Marine walking around with all the other injured Marines…I didn’t expect my Marine combat tour to be like that, but that’s what it was.”    He credited the Wounded Warrior Regiment with helping to pull him out of the anger and depression that he dealt with for the first few years after his injury.  He also credited Doc Martin and the other veterans he has since met up with at PCC.  You can view the video of his nine minute speech below.  Coverage of the entire ceremony, including video of a speech by the aforementioned Doc Martin, at http://www.sierramadrenews.net/?p=11429.

On June 26th, Assemblymember Holden honored Corporal Kemnitz at the State Assembly, saying “Throughout the history of the United States, ordinary men and women

Corporal Kemnitz and an unidentified veteran march in the 2013 4th of July parade. Copyright 2013 SierraMadreNews.Net. Click to enlarge

have been inspired to do extraordinary things for this country.  Nathan Kemnitz is one of those ordinary men whose heroic deeds we honor today,” said Assemblymember  Holden.  According to the Assemblyman’s press release, Nathan Kemnitz represents what is best in America. He served this country proudly as a Marine in the Iraq War during Operation Enduring Freedom.  In 2004, Nathan was severely injured by an explosive device which left him blind in one eye and with traumatic damage to his right arm and shoulder. He came home to Texas with a Purple Heart and a hero’s welcome. 

Nathan overcame many challenges undergoing over 25 surgeries and spending 3 years in and out of the hospital. He moved to Pasadena for a fresh start and a second chance and it changed everything for him. He attended Pasadena City College and had the strength and smarts to ask for a helping hand from the Veterans’ Resource Center. Then he began helping others as President of the Veteran’s Club and a member of Sierra Madre’s VFW Post 3208.

Having overcome many obstacles and been given a second chance, he graduated from Pasadena City College with a 4.0 GPA and has been accepted to the University of Southern California for the fall.  

Unfortunately, the fact that he was being honored that day didn’t keep security personnel from being “overzealous” as he tried to enter the Capitol building, ordering him to take off his dress blues, twice, because it contained too much metal, which he was not willing to do.  Later, at Sacramento International Airport, security personnel inspected under his medals, and even swabbed his shoes for bomb residue.  Kemnitz said that he had set off the alarms at Burbank Airport on his way to Sacramento, and when he was asked to raise his arms to be searched, he told them he couldn’t, but personnel there thanked him for his service and allowed him to proceed.  While Corporal Kemnitz recognizes the need to have security, he wonders if it couldn’t have been tempered with a little more common sense.  “I’m not saying to just let anybody with a military uniform through, of course not,” he told me.  “Just use a little common sense..show a little respect, that’s all I’m really saying…In my mind, I really couldn’t care less, search me whatever, I thought it was hilarious and ridiculous, that’s what I thought, but the other people…thought it was horrible, and I can see why.”

Patricia Martin, one of the counselors from PCC that was on the trip, was offended enough that she took a picture of the personnel searching him, and sent it on to Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki.  It’s unclear from my conversation with Corporal Kemnitz how the story hit the media, but it has.  I first learned about what happened  Wednesday on Facebook when a friend from Washington (state) posted an article from NewsMax.com.  Shortly after that, I was contacted by Fox News, requesting permission to use my video, and the DailyMail.co.UK, a news outlet from the United Kingdom, also asking to use my video.  As far as I know, Fox has not yet posted it, but there’s a lengthy story with lots of pictures (including Ms. Martin’s picture of the search) and the video at the Daily Mail site: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2358616/Purple-Heart-Marine-treated-shamelessly-TSA-tried-explain-roadside-bomb-injuries-prevented-raising-right-arm-body-scan.html.  Since Wednesday afternoon, the number of views of the video has risen from 50 to 94, a significant increase in traffic for an eight month old video.

According to the Daily Mail article, TSA spokesman Ross Feinstein issued a statement Monday concerning the incident.   ‘Our intent is to treat all injured service members and veterans with the dignity they deserve,  as always, all passengers with disabilities and medical conditions are eligible for screening procedures sensitive to their particular disability, medical condition or other unique medical circumstance.  ‘Transportation Security Officers have to resolve any anomaly detected at the checkpoint,’ Feinstein said.  ‘As is standard procedure for all passengers, if travelers alarm when passing through a metal detector or an advanced imaging technology (AIT) unit, additional screening is required in order to resolve that anomaly.’

Following similar incidents with other wounded veterans, the TSA recently changed it’s rules so injured troops no longer need to remove their shoes, jackets or hats in security. They also offer an expedited service, but you must call the agencies (sic) Military Severely Injured Joint Service Operations Center prior to traveling.

Just a week later, Kemnitz was honored by thousands of people lining Sierra Madre Blvd., as he and the other members of Harry L. Embree Post 3208 participated in the town’s 4th of July parade.