On Veteran’s Day this Sunday, Patricia Kenner will bury her son, U.S. Marine Sgt. Kenneth Daniel Reich Jr., a beloved member of a Homestead family that has served in the military for three generations.
Danny, as everyone called him, was 26, too young to leave a world he was trying to help keep safe.
He leaves behind a widow, Sayuri, and their 19-month old daughter, Nanami, and four brothers and sisters.
“I still can’t believe he’s gone,” his mother tells me, allowing her voice to crack only a little before she reminds herself that she needs to be strong now.
She’s a nurse and served in the Air Force.
“He’s such a wonderful kid,” she says. “He used to follow me around, and I would say, ‘What do you want, Danny?’”
“I want another kiss!” Danny would tease.
A graduate of South Dade Senior High, Danny left for Marine basic training on his 18th birthday in 2004.
He was stationed in Korea, Australia, Iraq and in Okinawa, Japan.
It was at a Christmas block party in Fukuoka that he met the young Japanese woman who would become his wife.
Although Danny didn’t die on a battlefield, as so many Americans we honor Sunday have, he was fighting a formidable enemy: Myelodysplastic Syndrome. MDS is a rare blood disorder that affects the bone marrow.
A disease that afflicts 18,000 people every year, according to the National Institutes of Health, MDS has become better known since ABC News’s Robin Roberts began sharing with the public her own struggle earlier this year.
Danny and his family shared his story as well in a Miami Herald article about the disease and the photopheresis therapy Danny was receiving at the University of Miami’s Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center.
“This is worse than war,” Danny told The Herald. “In Iraq any one of my friends would jump on a grenade for me. Here, I have support but it’s me against the disease.”
Kenner has chronicled her son’s fight in a “Prayers for Danny” page on Facebook filled with messages from all over the world.
Danny’s health was improving, but he suddenly went into shock and died on Oct. 30.
His family waited for his wife and daughter to arrive from Japan — and to bury him with full military honors on the holiday when we celebrate veterans with parades, accolades, and tributes to thank them for their service.
The date is also the anniversary of Danny’s grandfather’s death in 2005. William Fred Wolff served in the Army during World War II and survived his ship’s sinking by the Nazis.
“My son called my father his hero,” Kenner says.
Danny’s grandmother, Anna Kathryn Wolff, served in the Navy and was the first female commander of American Legion Post 29 in Miami. His late father, Kenneth D. Reich Sr., killed in a motorcycle accident in 2006, was in the Air Force.
As was his wish, the Marines kept Danny on duty to the end.
“All he ever wanted,” his mother said, “was to be a Marine for life — and he was.”
The public is invited to attend funeral services Sunday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Branam Funeral Home, 809 North Krome Ave. in Homestead, and the following burial with full military honors at Palms Woodlawn Cemetery, 27100 Old Dixie Hwy.