Tribute to the Dead: Fund Helps Children of Veterans Attend University | Securities

John McHugh’s childhood friends knew he would have a successful career. They just didn’t know it would be because he was good at so many things.

“He excelled at everything he did since kindergarten,” lifelong friend Kevin Morris told The Associated Press.

Colonel John McHugh, killed in Afghanistan, was the inspiration for the organization that provides scholarships to veterans and their family members, especially our country’s deceased or disabled children.

McHugh, also known as “Johnny Mac”, opted for a career in the military and rose to the rank of colonel after graduating from the United States Military Academy at West Point, along with two master’s degrees – l one in administration from American Public University and the other in strategic studies from the Army War College.

On May 18, 2010, McHugh traveled to Kabul to check out a new headquarters when he was killed by a Taliban suicide bomber.

His daughter, Kelly McHugh Stewart, recalls her father was supposed to be in Afghanistan for just two weeks and then return to the family’s military home at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

“It was a complete shock to my family – he wasn’t even deployed,” she added.

A suicide bomber killed 18 people after driving a minibus packed with explosives into his father’s convoy. Five American soldiers were killed, along with a Canadian colonel and 12 Afghan civilians.

“My father – my hero – was not coming home. My life has changed forever,” she said.

MdHugh left behind his wife, Connie, and five children. His eldest son, Michael, was serving in Iraq when his father was killed. He encountered his father’s body in Kuwait and accompanied him home.

MaryEllen Picciuto was a West Point classmate of McHugh and was stunned, as he was the highest ranking officer killed in action in Afghanistan and the only one of his West Point class after 9/11 to be killed in action . Several of her classmates organized an informal fundraiser to send her children to college.

A few of his classmates realized what a crucial advantage this would bring to the other Gold Star families, and in 2014 Picciuto joined them as president to establish the Johnny Mac Soldiers Fund. The organization is based in Ashburn.

Bob Eisiminger attended West Point a few years behind McHugh and was shocked at the loss.

“John was a guy I looked up to as a rookie at West Point,” Eisiminger said. “He was an inspiration to those around him with his contagious smile, and he was my inspiration.”

Eisiminger noted that one of the deepest values ​​instilled at West Point is a sense of service to the nation.

“A lot of individuals do five or 10 years and get out and then invest their free time in charitable causes, and a lot of it is serving people on active duty, helping those who take care of the defense of our country,” he said. said Eisiminger, who is an Army brat, born in California and raised in New Jersey and Fort Meade, Maryland.

Picciuto said that when the fund was created, she was confident that the people who supported it would make it a success.

At the end of its first year, the fund awarded its first grant, $50,000, Picciuto said. “In our first full year, 2015, we hosted two galas and two golf tournaments, which is quite significant for a small non-profit organization. It was crazy, but crazy fun that put us on the map.

The fund had raised $3 million at the end of 2015 and organized its first gala, in Houston, with the chief of staff of the army, Ray Odierno.

“The momentum from there just kept building, and it still is,” Picciuto said.

The Johnny Mac Soldiers Fund has now awarded more than $20 million in scholarships to veterans and military family members, especially the children of those who have died or are disabled. There are now 3,000 Johnny Mac Scholars attending schools across the country.

Eisiminger noted that there is a sharp increase in the number of eligible families, due to the long shadow cast by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“In 2007 there was an influx of troops into Afghanistan and into Iraq in 2009. There were a lot of deaths and injuries during that time and the babies are now of college age,” he said. said Eisiminger. “Although the wars are somewhat behind us, the need to take care of children is still there and even growing. The peak of the needs goes until 2024 before decreasing a little.

McHugh’s daughter Kelly graduated from Kansas State University in 2013 – three years to the day since her father was killed, and began her writing career.

“Since my father was killed in action, I’ve learned that I’ll never fully recover, but that’s okay. My life has taken on a new normal,” McHugh Stewart said. “I can allow my father’s death to hold me back, or I can use it as motivation to move forward and help improve the amazing country he died for. Every day I step forward to give back my proud soldier.

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