FORTVILLE — Tony Bennett of McCordsville is an active-duty naval officer with more than 22 years experience serving his country.
On Friday morning, he led his own little troop — three sons and a daughter, — to a table in Mt. Vernon High School’s cafeteria for a Heroes Breakfast honoring local veterans, first responders and active duty military personnel.
Bennett sat down next to his wife Mia, placed his officers cap on the table, and pulled his 3 daughter Dia onto his lap to enjoy a pancake breakfast and performances by the school band and chamber singers.
“It’s really nice they’re doing this for us,” said Bennett, as he popped a forkful of eggs into his daughter’s mouth.
The McCordsville officer, who is set to retire next month, was among the dozens of local heroes who attended Friday’s breakfast — which recognized the 21st anniversary of 9/11 this Sunday, Sept. 11.
“We thank you for your patriotism and your service,” said Superintendent Jack Parker as he addressed the crowd, which included more than a dozen members of the Ft. Vernon Township Fire Department.
“We appreciate the invitation,” said Fire Chief Mark Elder, who enjoyed breakfast alongside his crew.
Vietnam veteran Ron Chandler, 73, drove all the way from Cambridge City to attend the breakfast with his daughter, Lisa Holverson, whose daughters Sierra and Sage attend Mt. Vernon schools.
Wearing a baseball cap that spells out Marines in bright gold letters, Chandler said it was great to see the community honoring veterans like himself.
“This is so great. It feels like people are starting to recognize Vietnam veterans more over time,” said Chandler, who lived through an era when he and fellow veterans were sometimes met with hostility when returning from war.
Parker said the Heroes Breakfast was the school system’s effort to recognize those who bravely serve or have served their country and local communities.
“We call on our country and community to continue to demonstrate patriotism in loving and supporting one another and our country … to always support our active military veterans and first responders,” he said.
The superintendent said it’s essential to teach those students who were not yet born when 9/11 occurred about the indelible mark it made on our country.
“Twenty-one years ago this Sunday the world changed forever,” he said. “The coordinated attacks by terrorists took 2,996 human lives that day, and countless others since then. The bravery of first responders — answering the call to serve, protect and save lives — demonstrated a true American spirit.”
Jennifer Hirt’s husband was a West Point Cadet the day the towers fell, a turning point that prompted the McCordsville man to become a career military officer.
Their oldest daughter Janelle, a freshman at Mt. Vernon High School, has attended seven schools throughout her young life, proving that military families make sacrifices too.
Hirt has been by her husband’s side through multiple deployments spanning several states, including some time in Germany.
“I’m very proud of him,” she said of her husband Larry Hirt, 40, a lieutenant colonel serving near Ft. Benjamin Harrison in Lawrence.
While he couldn’t attend Friday’s breakfast, his wife sat with the Bennett family, whose children play sports together.
“When you’re not in a very big military community, it’s nice to connect with other military families like yourself,” she said.