Fitch honors area veterans with annual assembly
By Billy Ludt
On the 242nd anniversary of the U.S. Marine Corps, Austintown Fitch High School hosted its 34th annual Veterans Day assembly to recognize area veterans.
Retired Marine Col. Brian Kennedy, the main speaker at Friday’s event, delivered a speech directed at students on love and selflessness through service.
“That may sound strange from somebody on Veterans Day that isn’t someone from your faculty,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy spoke of a gap between the American population and its military. Not quite a half-percent of the U.S. population serves in the military, and Kennedy said events like this are necessary to connect children with veterans.
Kennedy graduated from Poland Seminary High School and attended Ohio State University, where he earned a degree in civil engineering. His service with the Marines began in 1989.
While serving, Kennedy piloted Cobra gunship helicopters and flew in more than 220 missions. He served in the Middle East, North Africa, Europe, the Western Pacific, Australia and across the U.S.
“The point is service,” he said. “I chose to serve because it required all of me: mind, body and spirit.”
Kennedy retired from the Marines in 2014 just after receiving the rank of colonel. He found the meaning of love through service by witnessing other veterans involved in community-service projects, such as Disabled American Veterans.
“At first I couldn’t really understand why they were so adamant about doing that,” he said. “Really, what I realized is that’s just a continuation of their service previously. What they did was find service in civilian life.”
Dedicating their time to others after serving, Kennedy said, is a natural progression and helps veterans assimilate back to civilian life.
Kennedy received honors from members of the township administration, state Sen. Joe Schiavoni of Boardman, D-33rd and the school during the assembly.
Kennedy is involved with area veterans organizations, is a 32nd-degree Mason and works as a professional boxing judge.
“How often do you go up to a veteran that you don’t know?” Chris Berni, senior class principal, asked the students.
Berni told a story about recently meeting and thanking a veteran while grocery shopping. The vet, Berni said, spoke at length about his service, as if he was discharged only yesterday.
“As I’ve said before, you simply need to go up to that man or woman and do the most uncomfortable thing you can think of, and tell them, ‘Thank you for serving,’” he said.
Fitch symphonic band, concert choir and color guard performed patriotic tunes and songs during the assembly.
“This is a community that loves and honors our veterans because they have honored and loved us,” Trustee Rick Stauffer said.