Johnny Kihm’s buddies from Presentation BVM Elementary School were devastated when he died in Afghanistan and wanted to honor him in some way.
U.S. Army Pfc. Kihm attended Presentation from first through eighth grades, graduating in 2005.
“He was a very nice boy, always smiling and happy. He had very supportive parents,” said principal Nancy Scharnikow.
Kihm, who lived on the 900 block of Tyson Ave., attended Cardinal Dougherty High School, graduating in 2009. He joined the Army in early 2010.
“Everybody was proud of him,” said friend Tom O’Neill. “He was such a great kid and had such a great set of values and morals.”
Kihm was serving in Afghanistan when he was killed in April.
“It broke my heart,” said Kevin Donnelly, who attended Presentation and Dougherty with the fallen soldier. “I was very close with him. I was proud of him. He was a good leader. That’s why he joined the military.”
O’Neill, Donnelly and fellow ’05 Presentation graduates Michael Dickson and Jordan Malpass looked for a way to honor his memory.
Cardinal Dougherty closed in 2010, so the 20-year-olds decided to plant a dogwood tree outside Presentation.
John and Ceil Kihm have remained close with the foursome and liked the idea, as did Presentation.
Last week, the young men dug a hole and planted the tree during a ceremony attended by the Kihm family and the third- through eighth-graders at Presentation, which is located in Cheltenham, on the border of Lawndale. Most of the 260 pupils live in the Northeast.
In front of the tree are red, white and blue pinwheels and a statue of an angel donated by teacher Kate (McHugh) McGreevey, who often talked sports with Kihm and always gave him a bag of peanuts on the opening day of baseball season.
The Kihms appreciated the thoughtfulness of everyone involved. The soldier’s sister Meghan, grandfather Jim Walsh and uncle Tom Walsh were also in attendance.
“John met all his friends here,” said Ceil Kihm, a former Presentation teacher. “This was his foundation.”
The ceremony was held on the afternoon of Sept. 21, the International Day of Peace. Students planted patriotic pinwheels in the front yard of the school.
All joined in the singing of the Peace Prayer of St. Francis and God Bless America. The Rev. William Harrison, the church pastor, led the crowd in prayer.
During his deployment, Kihm took part in 28 missions.
“It takes a certain kind of person to put on the uniform,” said Malpass, who credited his mom, Kimberlee, with encouraging him and his friends to do something in Kihm’s memory. “He was strong and brave and had such strong convictions.”
O’Neill, Donnelly, Dickson and Malpass all wore gray T-shirts that featured a silhouette of Kihm against an American flag.
The shirt reads, “Real American Idols. If you don’t want to stand behind soldiers, feel free to stand in front of them.”
Kihm has also been honored with a tree planting at Resurrection of Our Lord and a cross with his name on it at the annual Memorial Day event at Veterans of Foreign War Post 2819 on Martins Mill Road.
The Kihm family is active with the Pfc. Johnny Kihm Memorial Fund, which raises money for soldiers and their families.
“There are still guys over there. They need help,” said John Kihm, citing their youth and the physical and emotional challenges they face.
The family is looking forward to taking part in an Oct. 19 makeover at the Philadelphia Veterans Comfort House in West Philadelphia.
The fund sells pink, white and gray T-shirts, and John Kihm welcomes anyone who wants to purchase a shirt to call him at 215-771-2247.
Johnny Kihm’s friends joined his family on June 12, which would have been his 20th birthday, for a dinner at one of his favorite restaurants, Olive Garden.
The young men always will cherish the memories spent with their friend.
“He may be gone, but we’ll remember him always,” Dickson said. ••
Reporter Tom Waring can be reached at 215-354-3034 or email@example.com