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Here are some thoughts of a veteran who recievced letters by students:
Around me other soldiers are reading their letters, sharing them with each other, and many have tears in their eyes.
I open the first letter. It is signed “Mary” from a school in my hometown. She does not know me but she said she is writing to me because I am a “hero”. Me? This is surely a mistake. I am not a hero; I am a soldier and did what I had to do.
Then the memories flood in. Memories I held at bay for six decades. Memories of waiting - seemingly forever - then being thrown into battle in seconds, automatically doing what I was trained to do, the noise of armaments and shouts of people, the odors mixing together, tending to wounded, the weariness, grieving for lost comrades, and the fear that is always with you. I silently pray to see my loved ones again.
I turn back to the letters at hand trying to block these thoughts from so long ago. This one is from Mark who is in eighth grade. His words touching my heart, he states, “I am proud to be an American and to have this opportunity to tell you how much I appreciate your defending our democratic way of life.”
Lucy in grade six writes: “We will never forget you and other veterans for all you have done for us. You all deserve to be honored every day.”
Jimmy in grade five says: “Thank you for making me safe. My great-grandfather was a soldier and I wish he were still alive so I could thank him too.”
Back to Mary, who concludes her letter with: “Your family must be very proud to have a real hero in their lives.”
Reading these letters touches me in a way that I cannot describe. Feelings return that I have shut out for so long and have not even fully shared with members of my family. I came home to them when so many did not. I went back to school, got a job, married and raised a family who gave me grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I never forgot the war but I forced it into the background to move forward.
The power of these letters is not only the praises and appreciation they express but that they unlocked the reason why I became a soldier: to make our country safe for my family and every family in America.