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LAKE MILTON Teen battles for veterans



Published: Tue, April 23, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



By WILLIAM K. ALCORN

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

LAKE MILTON -- Nikki Mendicino is a champion of America's missing in action and prisoners of war. "Bring them home," she demands in a clarion voice.

Nikki told members of Korean War Veterans Association Chapter 137 and their guests Monday at American Legion Post 737 to sign her online petition demanding that Navy Lt. Cmdr. Michael Speicher, shot down over Iraq in January 1991, be brought home. She believes he might still be alive.

"I will deliver this to President Bush and every member of Congress myself if I have to. Somehow, someway, I will do everything I can until he is back in the U.S.A. where he belongs," she vowed.

"To the world, I may be only one person. But to one person I may be the whole world. I may be that person to Lt. Cmdr. Speicher," she said.

Honor roll pupil

Nikki, 13, is also a cheerleader at her middle school in a small town near Pittsburgh. She's an eighth-grade honor roll pupil who laughs nervously when asked if she has a boyfriend, and goes to movies and has sleepovers with her girlfriends.

This young dynamo, wearing her fishing hat covered in pins and medals given to her by grateful veterans and her Rolling Thunder Junior Member jacket, speaks several times a month to veterans groups. She is known nationally through her Web site and has been designated an honorary veteran.

Nikki is to be a co-host of the rally and a guest speaker at Rolling Thunder XV, an event of the National Chapter of Rolling Thunder veterans organization, over Memorial Day weekend. She is the first and only honorary junior member of the National Chapter of Rolling Thunder.

She has met presidents and vice presidents. She received the Pennsylvania Medal of Commendation, the state's second highest civilian award, and appeared on the "Rosie O'Donnell Show." She is to be featured as the cover story for American Profile, a national magazine, in its May 19 edition.

She is serious when she says she wants to be president of the United States.

Nikki is from a generation that many veterans wonder if it understands or cares what they went through. So, the torch she carries touches veterans the way no adult could.

"She is wise beyond her years," said Zeno Foley, Chapter 137 commander.

Early interest

Nikki started her trek at age 10 when she met John Kridlo, a decorated World War II veteran who landed at Utah Beach on D-Day. Before that, she had never even heard of D-Day.

By talking to Kridlo and seeing the movie "Saving Private Ryan," she said she began to learn about war and what the veterans went through.

Because of her growing interest, she talked to her grandfather, Michael M. Mendicino, who was in the Navy during WWII at Okinawa. He had never talked about the war, even to his children, until Nikki asked. Now he has told her hundreds of stories, Nikki's mother, Michelle, said.

Nikki is one of four children of Daniel and Michelle Mendicino. She has two brothers, Nicholas, and her twin, Nathan, and a sister, Natalie.

Robert Brothers, who invited Nikki to speak to Chapter 137 after hearing her in January in Mercer, Pa., participates in the Korean War Veterans Association's Tell America program, where he speaks to schools about the war and the flag.

The young people are smarter and more patriotic than you think, he said.

Nikki said the terrorist events of Sept. 11 requires that the nation rally together. "The politics of the country can't be divided anymore. We are at war. We may have more POWs and MIAs to bring home," she said.

"Share your stories with us," she said to the veterans. "Teach us so we can be the next greatest generation."




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