Joseph Sabino Mistick: Remembering the two Kennys of Westinghouse Memorial
It was only natural for me to think about our two Kennys last week. Kenny Rubbo and Kenny Kline were part of the “Class of 1967” of Westinghouse Memorial High School in Wilmerding.
Within months of graduation, some of my classmates headed to the factories and mills and some to college. And some, including our two Kennys, entered the military.
It was a tough time to become a soldier, because there was a war going on. Vietnam was at full tilt, and it was a sure bet that the boys would see things we never imagined growing up. Life could be a little hard in the valley, but it offered the comfort of predictability — until you had to leave.
Kenny Rubbo entered the Marine Corps. Five months after arriving in Vietnam, he was killed in action. Kenny Kline entered the Army. Two months later, he was killed in action.
They were sweet and kind boys, loved by family and friends. But the usual official reports only include recitations of their service records and the cold details of their deaths — nothing more.
Fifty years later, those who shot hoops with them on outside asphalt courts, or horsed around in the corridors between classes, or hung out until the last note of the last song at the Friday night gymnasium dances, still struggle to understand why it happened.
Two years ago, at our class reunion, their yearbook photos on the memorial wall showed them as we remembered them, as they will always be. And nothing could be a better reminder of their service to our country than that.
In some places the Vietnam War was more complicated than it was in our valley. Many of our fathers and teachers and coaches were World War II veterans, and service and sacrifice came naturally. And many of them bore their battle scars as if they were of no moment, just a natural part of living.
Five years after the deaths of our buddies, when I was a young borough councilman in our small town, I was asked to give the Memorial Day address at the military cemetery where they were buried, just down the road from where we all went to school together.
I was too young to cut through the pain and reach for wisdom, so I asked those World War II veterans what I should say.
They talked about the great opportunities in the military and the lifelong friendships they made. They described places that they never would have seen if they had not put on the uniform. They said that when they were in battle, they fought for each other, a real band of brothers.
They said that they joined the military to serve their families and communities. And they all said that the heroes that need to be remembered are those who did not come home.
But, in the end, like our two Kennys, they all had stepped up, willing to put it on the line for our country. That is why on Veterans Day — like Memorial Day and Flag Day — we honor our country by honoring all of them.
Joseph Sabino Mistick is a Pittsburgh lawyer. Reach him at [email protected].