Local ‘Veteran of the Year’ Honored as Memorial Day Speaker

Harold French helped coordinate the return of the local Memorial Day parade and has walked in it ever since. In November, French was honored for his U.S. Army service as “Armstrong County Veteran of the Year.” (submitted photo)

by Jonathan Weaver

For the past half-dozen years, Harold French has walked alongside his fellow veterans in Kittanning’s annual Memorial Day Parade.

And even as ‘Veteran of the Year,’ French said he would rather walk.

“I’m involved in a lot of veterans’ activities, (but) I don’t do it for the recognition. I do it to help my fellow veterans,” French said.

The past AMVETS Post 13 Commander said he declined the ‘Veteran of the Year’ honor in the past, but fellow veterans “snuck it in” while he was on vacation this year.

French will think about a lot while he completes his Memorial Day speech this weekend.

“I think of my family that has passed on that served, my friends in high school that were killed in Vietnam, all the veterans in World War II that were part of the greatest generation.”

A native of Typewriter Hill in Kittanning, French went into the U.S. Navy just like his father, Richard, and uncles had.

“We were a Navy family – that’s all we ever heard growing up,” French recalled.

“They didn’t talk about their actual experience fighting the war – they’d say ‘Oh, we were on this ship and the waves were so high!’ and ‘Oh, I met my wife over here.’”

French served in Iceland and Greece with the U.S. Navy from 1964-68 before his honorable discharge. He was involved in naval communications.

After returning to Ford City, French worked at Eljer, Allegheny Ludlum and finally as postmaster of the Freeport post office. He retired six years ago.

French recalled that during his 50th high school reunion at the 10th Street Station, students honored the nearly-60 military personnel from the Ford City High class – giving them letters of appreciation, their respective branch pins and playing their military anthem.

Before Monday’s Memorial Day speech about commitment and duty, French – also a member of the Armstrong County Honor Guard and still an AMVETS officer– will also give a speech in Cowansville and plans to attend the Ford City Memorial Eve candlelight service.

“Everyone seems to think that once they get their discharge, that that’s it. But, you volunteered to serve your country. I’ve been out for over 45 years, and I’m still trying to serve it and help my fellow veterans,” French said.

The oldest of seven brothers and sisters, French’s youngest brother – Robert – also served in the U.S. Navy.

French’s two sons are out of town, but his youngest – Tyler – will travel from Lower Burrell for Monday’s ceremony.

French, also a former volunteer firefighter, also has twin grandsons and a granddaughter that will also come to the Kittanning parade.

Decorated Vietnam War Veteran SSgt. Richard J. Kunselman was the featured speaker last year.

Kunselman – who is the designated caretaker of the Vietnam memorial in Riverfront Park with wife, Pam – has earned many decorations during his nearly-12 year military service, such as the Purple Heart, Bronze Star Medal for Valor and the Security Police Combat Badge.

Kittanning #6 Fire Chief Scott Kline will emcee the Riverfront Park ceremony, while his father – #4 Fire Chief, Borough Fire Marshal and Vietnam Veteran – Earl “Buzz” Kline coordinated the parade route.

“It’ll start by (the former Kittanning Junior High), go up Vine Street to North Grant Avenue, south on North Grant to Market (Street), Market Street to Jefferson (Street), then it will turn left and go one block to Jacob Street, make a right on Jacob and enter (Riverfront Park),” “Buzz” said.

He expected about 40 units in the parade, including the Armstrong Senior High and Kittanning Firemen’s bands, a handful of floats and local fire departments and police officers.

“It’s probably the biggest Memorial Day parade in the county,” “Buzz” said.

“Buzz” has been on the parade committee with his wife, Donna since its reorganization -along with Retired U.S. Army Colonel Jack Bennett, Ford City veteran Don King and French. “Buzz” graduated from Ford City with French.

“Buzz” earned six medals during his service with the U.S. Army and was a clerk personnel specialist before being honorably discharged. He is also a member of Post 4843 in Ford City.

He was drafted and served for two years, and recalled a few years ago what Memorial Day means to him.

“It’s a time to remember and pay tribute to the individuals who made the ultimate sacrifice and also those who served our country. There’s not much recognition for veterans in certain areas, so if you can spark some interest and show some recognition for veterans, it goes a long way,” Kline said.

The Sons of the Union Veterans of the Civil War will conduct the service immediately following the parade.

Kittanning firefighters and their families put more than 1,400 flags at veterans’ graves in three cemeteries last Sunday.

Military veterans walk along Market Street in downtown Kittanning during last year’s Memorial Day Parade (KP File Photo).