Las Vegas fireworks stand helps families of the fallen

A few years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks – and more than a decade after appearing in the 1987 film “Full Metal Jacket” – Kevyn Major Howard saw a news flash of more U.S. soldiers gunned down in Iraq, and couldn’t name a single person killed in action.

The actor, who was in a handful of other movies and television shows, is now touring the nation with his nonprofit, Fueled by the Fallen, and its fleet of 21 cars to honor veterans and raise money for the families of those he has come to call heroes.

Each of those cruisers and drag cars is plastered with the names of police officers, first responders, and members of the armed forces who have given their lives, many of them on Sept. 11, 2001, or in the two wars that followed.

On a break from visiting former presidents, Capitol Hill and the Statue of Liberty, a few of those cars are stationed by the organization’s fireworks stand outside the Red Rock Harley-Davidson on Rainbow Boulevard and Sahara Avenue.

It is among 170 stands operated by a variety of nonprofit groups throughout Clark County that have been selling legal fireworks. They are run by volunteers to help fund sports teams, charities and church groups, among others.

Howard and his cars travel the country year-round for races, parades and fundraisers. The money they earn goes to returning veterans and the families of those killed – paying medical bills, helping fight foreclosures and providing scholarships to children left behind.

Plus, he said he wants to remind young Americans about the values of integrity, honor, respect and courage.

The side of his group’s 72-foot trailer carries that message: “Teach a child to thank a hero today.”

Back in 2007, Howard asked himself how best to capture America’s attention and focus on veterans and war heroes.

His answer? Cars.

“You will get the attention of a 2-year-old and a 92-year-old with an automobile,” he said.

That theory worked on Cody Mendola. He and his family have been regulars behind the register of Howard’s stand since it opened Thursday.

Mendola, 17, and his mother, Rosemary Mendola, were at a recent Las Vegas 51s game when one of Fueled by the Fallen’s “Angel Cruiser Series” – Chevrolet Camaros covered in the names of 9/11 victims – pulled up for an event. After talking with Howard and events coordinator Tiffanie Kalisz about their fireworks stand, Mendola said it was “a match made in heaven.”

Rosemary Mendola had worked at fireworks stands in the lead-up to July Fourth. Meeting Howard and Kalisz and talking about their nonprofit, hit her: Her grandfather fought in World War II.

“It just really touched me. What a great cause to give back,” she said.

Howard knows his role as “Rafterman,” a Vietnam War combat photographer, in Stanley Kubrick’s seminal war film has helped connect with veterans and their families.

But in fielding 15 requests a week to bring the cars to events across the country, Fueled by the Fallen has taken over his life. He can’t remember the last time he was in the studio, he said.

“I’ve done good. Our heroes have done great.”

Contact reporter Kyle Potter at or 702-383-0391.

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