Newark, N.J. — Corporal Kevin J. Reinhard wanted to be a military pilot, but his 6-foot-4-inch frame was considered too tall to fly jets. Intent on joining the armed forces and serving his country, he instead enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and became an aircraft crew chief, which still offered him the chance to be in the air, just not in the cockpit.
Doing what he loved, Reinhard was deployed on his second tour of duty to Afghanistan in September 2011 and was killed in the line of duty on January 19, 2012, while supporting combat operations in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, under the umbrella of Operation Enduring Freedom. He was 25.
The New Jersey Devils posthumously honored Reinhard as the Hero of the Game during the March 6 game at Prudential Center as they celebrated Woodbridge, N.J.’s My Town night.
“Kevin was the type of person who could walk into a room full of strangers, but when he left, he was everybody’s friend,” his mother, Kathleen, said. “He just lit up a room.”
Reinhard’s parents, Jim and Kathleen represented their son as the Hero of the Game, receiving a rousing ovation from the fans during the second period.
Reinhard joined the Marines shortly before his third year of college, having studied at Ramapo College and Middlesex County College. “He wanted to serve his country, and then go back to college,” Kathleen recalled.
His degree could wait, his sense of service could not.
Within the Marines, he became a crew chief, managing an aircraft, determining if it was flyable or not and whether it could complete assigned missions. He even had the authority to pull troops from the aircraft.
“He had the right to escort them off and tell them ‘you’re not flying on my bird,’” Kathleen explained.
Seeing their son recognized by fans at The Rock meant a lot to his parents, particularly that he has not been forgotten.
“I want people to know that every day there are men and women, in our service, who are putting their lives on the line,” Kathleen said as she wore a gold star pin, representing a family member killed in action. She explained that when someone enlists, their family becomes a blue star family, but, “you never want to be a gold star.”
When Reinhard died, Woodbridge rallied around his family, and has even named monuments in his memory. “They’re building a seniors’ complex that’s going to be named after him, there’s a street named after him… and we also have a scholarship at his high school named for him [at St. Joseph High School, in Metuchen, N.J.]”
Reinhard’s family loves its town. “Woodbridge is the best place to live….The town all came together to support us and to help us through the most difficult thing we ever had to experience,” Kathleen said. “It’s nice to see that Woodbridge is honored, because it is an honor to be here.”
Beyond honoring one of Woodbridges’ own, the Devils and Prudential Center presented representatives of the town with a special bench designed by Halmar, as well as a shade tree to be delivered in the spring.
The next night in the My Town series is set for March 17, when the Devils will celebrate Millburn and Short Hills, N.J. For more information on the My Town program, please call 973-757-6250