An American Example of Patriotism and Service
John Fenech Is a Coast Guard veteran who has never stopped serving fellow citizens.
John Fenech’s heart attack did more than scare him and his family. The potentially fatal experience awakened a somewhat dulled drive within him. As he pondered a new sense of his own mortality and the realization of how precious each day truly is, John was struck with a sense of unfulfillment.
He had a beautiful family and a satisfying career. He’d served his country for years in the Coast Guard. Yet he still felt something was missing.
What have I accomplished besides work, and providing for my family?” he asked himself.
John Fenech wanted his life to have a bigger impact than his own immediate circle. He wanted to do more.
That’s when a co-worker at American Airlines told him about a non-profit for families of fallen service members.
John showed up as a volunteer the morning a handful of these families arrived at JFK for their donated charter flight across country, to meet up with thousands of other family members of the fallen, in a pre-Christmas gathering. While many of the specifics of that whirlwind day are lost to him, he remembers the feeling it gave him. It was a feeling that had him hooked on this new kind of service.
Since that day eleven years ago, John has made volunteering a way of life for himself and his family. His non-profits of choice are Snowball Express, the Patriot Guard, and Something Maagic Foundation.
Snowball Express annually flies hundreds of families of the fallen to Texas for a few days in December.
The event is filled with reunions of old friends, meeting new ones, and a reinforcement of love, support and gratitude on behalf of grateful citizens who make sure the families of those who don’t make it home from combat are wrapped in strength and smiles as they venture into the Holiday season without their husband, wife, mother or father who gave their life for our country.
Whatever the weather, Patriot Guard riders show up to honor the fallen and their families, and protect the living from protestors. They escort military families to and from ceremonies, and represent a nation’s gratitude for our military. John’s kids are no stranger to the Patriot Guard, and frequently stand alongside him.
The Something Maagic Foundation is a non-profit run within the circle of American Airlines employees.
It helps fulfill the wishes of children with terminal or chronic health conditions by flying them and their families to special vacations or events. John’s entire family participates in this work. Each year they join in on the marquis event in Orlando, Florida, as their family helps others create memories that will last a lifetime.
Asked about any one moment that stands out in his mind, John unhesitatingly talks about Billy.
Billy was just about 8 or 9 years old when he and his family traveled on a special flight through JFK airport. John was on hand to offer them the VIP treatment.
Physically limited by numerous impediments, Billy has very little mobility and communication ability. But that doesn’t seem to have any impact on his patriotism. While being wheeled through security, Billy seemed agitated, struggling to turn toward something he’d seen over his left shoulder.
Then the young boy did something that is forever emblazoned in John’s memory:
With a herculean strength and unwavering determination, the young boy with severe physical handicap willed himself to a standing position, placed his hand on his heart, and offered his very best recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance as he faced the American flag.
As a veteran of the United States Coast Guard, John was moved by young Billy. As a civilian citizen, he was blown away by the example Billy set. So much so, that he invited Billy and his family back for a ceremony with Medal of Honor Recipients.
This memory is something John holds fast to now, in the face of the growing disrespect for our flag and a corresponding rise in protests that reach deep into the hearts of so many who give so much in service to this country.
John’s story is not one likely to be heard in many venues.
He is not a millionaire or celebrity. He is not a war hero or rock star. He is, however, the embodiment of what makes this country so special. He is an everyday American who loves his family, his country, and his fellow citizens, and makes sure the world he touches is better for his presence.