Members of Kennesaw State University’s ROTC Club, Enactus Team and Veterans Club sponsored a short ceremony to dedicate a tree on campus to the late Army First Lt. J.P. Walsh, who graduated from KSU in 2008 and was killed in action at age 28 on April 22 while serving with the 82nd Airborne Division in Afghanistan.
The dedication was followed by the school’s annual Veterans Day celebration. This year’s keynote speaker was KSU graduate and east Cobb native Army Major Stefan Hutnik.
Around 50 people attended a tree dedication ceremony for Walsh, including his parents Paul and Carolyn Welsh of Kennesaw and a family friend Jonathan Robinson, on the school’s Campus Green at 11:45 a.m.
Chaplain Rabbi Albert Slomovitz, a retired U.S. Navy Reserve captain and history professor at KSU, gave the benediction.
“We ask you to remember all our veterans who have given the supreme sacrifice to our country,” Slomovitz said. “Our hearts cry a little bit on this beautiful, sunny day as we remember Lt. Walsh, who also came through our halls at Kennesaw and loved this country so much that he gave his life for it.”
The school’s Student Government Association veterans representative Derek Ridings said the tree serves as a “living legacy” of Walsh.
“I am humbled to stand in the shadow of this tree,” he said. “The thought of Jonathan having walked this ground inspires me to continue serving our student veterans with renewed energy. His story will live on throughout our campus.”
Ridings, a 2002 graduate of McEachern High School in southwest Cobb who served three tours of duty in Operation Iraqi Freedom as a military policeman in the Army, is studying American History at KSU with plans to graduate next fall.
On behalf of the university, Associate Vice President for Operations Major Gen. Maria Britt, a retired Army National Guard member, said Walsh lived the “Warrior Ethos.”
“I will always place the mission first. I will never quit. I will never accept defeat, and I will never leave behind a fallen comrade,” she said. “This tree will memorialize his spirit and forever keep his courage locked in our hearts. We are honored to call him an alum and a fellow brother in arms.”
Following the ceremony, Walsh’s mother made a statement to university spokesman Robert Godlewski.
“He was a wonderful son, and I’m going to miss him. He was a first responder and he wanted to do something in life that made a difference.”
She also told Godlewski that Walsh’s son, Austin, turns 1 on Saturday.
Shortly after Walsh’s dedication, KSU President Dan Papp welcomed the crowd of about 100 people to the school’s annual Veterans Day celebration.
“Kennesaw State is extremely proud of our veterans and of our serving military. We are also extremely proud to be designated by the U.S. Department of Defense as one of only six military-friendly institutions in the state of Georgia,” he said. “We are also extremely, extremely desirous of being even more military-friendly over the course of upcoming days, months and years.”
This year’s keynote speaker, 34-year-old Hutnik, graduated from Pope High School in 1996 and KSU’s Coles College of Business in 2000. He currently is stationed at Fort Benning near Columbus and is the son of Richard and Lynne Hutnik of Marietta.
“It’s an honor for me to be able to talk to you today. It’s great to be back on campus here at Kennesaw State. It’s been about 10 years since I’ve been back here on campus, and everything has changed quite a bit, so I appreciate the opportunity and the honor you’ve bestowed on me to speak a little bit about veterans … basically bragging about my soldiers during my last deployment in Afghanistan,” he said.
Hutnik told a story about the courage his soldiers took when their vehicle was hit by a bomb while giving a tour to ranking officers in September 2010, calling it a “simple act of heroism.”
No one was killed in the incident, but Hutnik said it illustrates what makes veterans “uniquely special people.”
“They’re willing to forego their own discomfort, they’re willing to disregard the fact that they may be wounded in action with the enemy, they’re always going to look out for their friends, but even when they’re looking out for friends in a combat situation, their heart is so large that they’re willing to help out other people and always willing to go that extra effort,” he said. “May God always bless America’s veterans.”
After Hutnik’s speech, about 25 veterans in attendance took the opportunity to introduce themselves and briefly explain their military service.
Among those were Rep. Ed Setzler (R-Acworth), who was a captain in the Army and served between 1992 and 2001; Kennesaw City Councilman Tim Killingsworth, who was a staff sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corp; and Lt. Walsh’s father Paul Walsh, who said he served two tours of duty as a tank commander in the Vietnam War.
Lastly, there was a “Blessing of the Flags” ceremony, followed by a playing of taps for Walsh and the late Army First Lt. Tyler Hall Brown, a former member of the Yellow Jacket Battalion and Georgia Tech Army ROTC program who was killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom on Sept. 14, 2004.