It was just announced that Inver Grove Heights has earned the privilege of hosting Minnesota’s official Veterans Day Program again this year.
On Nov. 11, 2012, we will gather at the Inver Grove Heights Veterans Memorial Community Center to honor our state’s veterans, and to thank them for all they have done for our country and our community.
Last year at this time, I penned a column for Patch, talking about two Inver Grove Heights veterans, Al Millinczek and Joe Kennedy, whose service and sacrifice typified that of so many veterans. In addition to remembering guys like Al and Joe again this this year, I want to call attention to two other young men as well: Cola Jensen and Kyle Anderson.
Al Millinczek was a WWII vet who passed away in 2008 at the age of 94. A stalwart in our local American Legion Post #424, Al provided decades of service to our community long after his time in the armed forces came to an end. Without Al’s commitment, leadership and efforts, and that of his fellow American Legion Post #424 members, the Inver Grove Heights Veterans Memorial Community Center would not exist.
Al’s family asked me to deliver his eulogy, and to this day there is no honor that has ever meant more to me than paying tribute to a man from whom I learned so much.
Army Spc. Joe Kennedy, 25, a Simley grad, never got the chance to come back and serve his community the way Al did, because Joe made the ultimate sacrifice. He was killed in combat in Afghanistan on April 15, 2011.
Joe’s memory and his service continue, however, through the efforts of his family and friends, who have fought through their own grief to help other soldiers and their families.
Like Joe Kennedy, Cola Jensen, 19, never got the opportunity to come back home. A 2011 Simley grad and a key part of four Simley state championship wrestling teams, Cola enlisted in the Marines but developed pneumonia while going through advanced infantry training. He died unexpectedly on June 13, 2012.
Though I watched Cola wrestle dozens of times over the years, I remember him mostly for the active role he played at St. Patrick’s. Cola ushered at church and served as a crucifer, carrying the cross at the beginning and end of Mass. He was a young man with deep faith.
This year, in addition to remembering the service and sacrifice of veterans like Al, Joe and Cola, I want to single out another young man as well.
Kyle Anderson, now 27, also a Simley grad like Joe Kennedy and Cola Jensen, was a state champion wrestler. A gregarious, engaging young man who enlisted in the Marines after graduating, Kyle was also my next-door neighbor and a good friend.
On October 11, 2004, as a result of an IED explosion in Iraq, schrapnel pierced Kyle’s helmet, crushing the back of his skull and causing massive head injuries. Kyle came home, unable to speak. He couldn’t walk on his own. He needed specialized care and lots of support.
It would have been easy for Kyle to give up back then.
But giving up wasn’t in Kyle’s nature. With the help of a lot of folks, and a lot of hard work by Kyle, he has made amazing progress. In fact, Kyle has made such strides that he made a movie about it, offering hope to other injured veterans and their families. Kyle’s movie—“Never Quit”—debuts Saturday at the VFW in South St. Paul.
At Minnesota’s official Veterans Day Program on Nov. 11, we will pay tribute to the sacrifices and service of all of our veterans. For those who want to do more, though, consider the examples set by Al, Joe, Cola and Kyle, and their loved ones.
For Al, consider volunteering your time toward something important here in IGH. If you are a vet, join our local American Legion Post #424.
For Joe, volunteer or donate to the Tribute to the Troops, a cause taken up by Joe’s family. Tribute to the Troops raises money to help the children of fallen veterans advance their education.
For Cola, think about playing a more active role where you worship. At St. Pat’s, this is the time of year when the church actively looks for more volunteers, and I’m guessing that’s true elsewhere as well.
For Kyle, get inspired by his movie. Think about supporting the Fisher House Foundation, which is special to Kyle and his family. Or support the Beyond the Yellow Ribbon campaign, an effort in which the City of Inver Grove Heights and Inver Hills Comunity College have been leaders, that supports our vets and their families.
Regardless of what you do, please take some time to remember the service and sacrifice of Al, Joe, Cola and Kyle, as well as their families, and all of the veterans their stories represent. Keep them in your thoughts and prayers, not just on Veterans Day, but throughout the year.