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Aurora native, 9/11 hero passes away

Was at the Pentagon on September 11

(AURORA, Ind.) -- Former Aurora resident Dennis Kern is leaving a lasting legacy after he passed away in December.


Kern attended St. Mary's School and graduated from Aurora High School in 1967.


He spent more than 30 years in the U.S. Navy. Before retiring, he served as chief-of-staff to Susan Morrisey Livingstone, the first female Under Secretary of the Navy.


Kern was at the Pentagon on September 11, 2001 with Livingstone who was giving a briefing to thirty people when the plane struck.


The black smoke and damage made it nearly impossible to see or escape. Kern guided the group through the Pentagon looking for a way out.


He was able to lead them to safety despite the blackness, because a voice kept calling out, signaling to them and others that there was a way out if they just kept pushing forward.

"Before they got completely out of Corridor 4, a fire suppression screen started to close. Had it shut, it would have cut them all off from safety. Captain Kern threw his body into the screen and shoved it back into the wall. From there, the path to safety was clear," according to the Naval History and Heritage Command website.


Kern would retire from the Navy on November 1, 2001 but his service to others was not finished.


In August of 2005, Kern moved to California and became the Director of Operations for San Francisco Recreation and Parks.


"Nothing made him happier than seeing the citizens of the city enjoying their parks whether on a sports field, at one of the lovely gardens, or just picnicking with their friends and family," his family said.


Kern held the Parks position until October 2023.


He passed away from a ten-month battle with brain cancer on December 17. He was 74-years-old.


A visitation and funeral will be held in San Francisco on January 11.

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