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McNicholas High School dedicates military memorial

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

By Eileen Connelly, OSU

ST. FRANCIS DE SALES DEANERY — As a patriotic crowd sang the national anthem and an Army helicopter hovered overhead, the Archbishop McNicholas High School community dedicated a military memorial on its campus on May 15 honoring five graduates who have given their lives in service to their country.

The memorial honors Marty Mugavin and Greg Iding, both class of 1965, who lost their lives in Vietnam; Joe Berning, class of 1969, who died in a helicopter crash in Germany in 1972; Chuck Kiser, class of 1985, and Nick Erdy, class of 2002, both killed in Iraq. Family members of all the men were on hand for the ceremony, which included a color guard and music by the Cincinnati Firefighter Pipe and Drum Corps.

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Gwyn Bush, a McNicholas faculty member and U.S. Army veteran, embraces Chief Warrant Officer 5 David Cooper, McNicholas class of 1978. Both were speakers at the dedication ceremony. (CT/Tony Tribble) View more photos from the dedication here.

According to Ken Serger, who served on the committee that planned the design of the memorial, research shows there are very few stand-alone military memorials on high school grounds in Ohio or throughout the country. Many dedicate interior wall space as a military memorial, but few have an actual monument erected on campus. The memorial is situated on strip of land between the high school’s two main parking lots. It is constructed of black granite, engraved with an American flag, bald eagle and a prayer and features individual panels for the fallen graduates with their pictures and inscription for each. Funding for the memorial, which cost an estimated $50,000, was provided through corporate contributions, the Nick Erdy Foundation and the sale of engraved paver bricks used to construct the surrounding walkway.

“This military memorial honors all those who have served or are serving our country so that we can enjoy the freedoms and blessings we have as Americans,” said Brian Pendergast, principal of McNicholas. “It also pays special tribute to the five alumni of Archbishop McNicholas who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. The memorial is a fitting tribute to these five individuals and will serve as a constant reminder to our current students. The committee did an excellent job on this project.”

After Pendergast welcomed those gathered for the ceremony, Father Jan Schmidt, class of 1972, led the group in prayer. Presentations by two guest speakers with close ties to McNicholas followed.

Gwyn Bush, a long-time science teacher and U.S. Army veteran, made note of the young men’s courage, saying, “it came from seeing a greater need than their own. And in the end they embodied Scripture in the Gospel according to John, ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.’ To me they are not fallen. They stand tall!”

“Today we bring these men home,” she added. “They’ve come back within view of their school. As they remain forever young, it is right that they will continue to experience the exuberance of youth.”

Chief Warrant Officer 5 David Cooper, class of 1978, said, “Today we stop for just a moment to honor the bravest of Americans, Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice.”

He also spoke of the values the five fallen servicemen have hold in common that allowed them to go in armed combat on behalf of others — loyalty, duty, respect, honor, integrity, selfless service and personal courage.

“These are the common values all Americans share,” Cooper said. “These are the values of the U.S. Army and the values reinforced at McNicholas. They give us a pathway ahead, a pathway to the light of Christ.”

After the presentations, McNicholas students came forward to give tribute to each of the fallen heroes, recalling their time in high school, along with their military experiences, heroism and honors received.

Ashley Boots, class of 2002 and Erdy’s fiancée at the time of his death, said the dedication of the memorial is significant for men’s family members and the McNicholas community. “Everybody still thinks of all of them,” she said. “It’s important that the students realize that these men did great things. It’s a good thing the memorial is here.”

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