Will's letter to veterans which I copied and distributed:
I love the soldiers. Thank you for fiding [sic] for me.
At the beginning of this school year, I signed up to volunteer to help with the Veteran's Day ceremony. I contacted the person in charge & let her know I was passionate about thanking Veteran's Day and would be willing to do some extra help.
We were then put in charge of distributing posters and invitations all over our region to veterans.
And so - the "Veterans Search Team" was created. Will came up with the name.
I was not about to do the work alone.
Oh no ma'am.
1. This is for his school so Will should volunteer right along with me.
2. TEACHING opportunities abounded!
So for about 3 weeks, we spent an hour or so almost every day after school driving all over this part of Texas in search of veterans. We mailed invitations to any not in our area, we made phone calls, and we drove.
When we found veterans, Will shook hands and said "Thank you for fighting for me."
Because they did.
Even if they don't know him, (& none did before!) they fought for him. And they fought for Ellie. And they fought for every other kid and adult in this country who has a disability or a diagnosis. Because kids like mine wouldn't be given equal rights in many other nations. Kids like mine wouldn't be given opportunities for education. They wouldn't be able to work. In some nations, kids like mine are killed - simply for being born looking like my kids look.
Killed because they are born with a diagnosis.
In other nations, kids like mine would be institutionalized. They would spend their lives in beds with absolutely no opportunities and no hope.
Instead, my kids were born here and go to school and parks and airplanes and Disney World. My kids swim in oceans, play on beaches, and live in a neighborhood. My kids will have jobs someday. They can marry. They can do anything they want - because they live in a nation that recognizes their value as humans.
I am overcome with gratitude to those who have fought to preserve our rights and lifestyle.
Several years ago, my husband & I were asked by our church (where we can attend freely without fear of persecution) to take some men to dinner from another country. These men were Christians and spoke to us through a translator. They were all highly educated and employed in their country and at least one had been jailed for being a believer. Christianity is illegal in their nation. As I listened to their stories of torture and prison I was overcome with gratitude for a country in which I can freely practice faith.
As a former history teacher, I recognize the value of putting faces and names to stories in books. I believe in educating each generation about what previous generations fought for and endured for our country.
As a mom of my sweet Will & Ellie, I am forever grateful to those who have fought to protect our freedoms and rights.
And so Will & Ellie & I drove all over searching for veterans and active duty servicemen and women.
We visited all of the local recruitment offices. Will loved the Army office because they invited him to play some video game they had and he loved the Marines and National Guard offices because they hooked him up with all kinds of gear and free stuff.
We talked to veterans of WWii, Vietnam, Korea, and the recent war on terrorism and drugs.
We found a survivor of the Bataan Death March and emailed with a man who was at the flag raising at Iwo Jima. We spoke to a man who survived Pearl Harbor and another who survived being a prisoner of war for 139 days under the Nazis when his plane was shot down.
Will had a lot of history lessons (I attempted to make them appropriate for a 6 year old) & one day asked me if "Nazis" were called that because they were "naughty." My kindergartener understands that there were two different fronts in WWii and has met soldiers who fought on each.
We went to retirement homes and grocery stores and even a WW2 memorial (that I didn't know we had outside of our city!)
The history teacher who must still live deep inside me loved doing this with my son and hearing these stories and knowing my child was meeting people so significant to our history. By the time he is in a history class learning about these wars, many of these men and women won't be here anymore (we spoke to a 95 year old veteran!) so I am so thankful now for the opportunity for him to shake hands and thank these soldiers.
(One sweet veteran whom we have known for years sent Will a sweet letter saying he couldn't make it this year due to having houseguests but please invite him again next year. He is 96.
Of course, he will probably outlive us all - he is a runner who continues to set records and compete internationally! (In fact - he is featured in the Dec issue of Runner's World!)
Finally, it was time for his school's service.
The fourth graders presented the program and it was incredible!
There were lots of patriotic songs and each branch of the military was recognized.
The school also recognized those who had received awards and medals.
There was an honor table set for POWs and MIAs and a moment of silence. It was a really special service and very few dry eyes remained at the end.
Will had two special guests who sat with him during the service.
Our cousin, Dandy, from VA, was there in memory of her dad, a Colonel in the Air Force who flew over 100 missions in the Vietnam War.
His other special guest was Dr. Leuken. We literally just met him a few days before when his family trick or treated with us! They are new to town as this is his first year in civilian life. He is a former Navy SEAL and was in the Navy for 28 years.
Dr. L brought Will some cool Navy SEALS clothes (they'll fit him someday!) and lots of pictures of his days in the military.
I decided that the SEALS look like real life Rambos in the jungle. Will was fascinated by the weapons and amazingly could pick Dr. L. out of the group even though they were all in camo and had painted faces.
Being an old history teacher, I made Will create a set of questions to interview the veterans. I wanted to make the most of the opportunity to get an oral history account.
I then typed up his questions and he proceeded to "interview" his veterans. He asked questions like "Where did you fight?" and "Who was your enemy?" He also asked "Were you ever afraid?" and "What did you eat during battles?"
I'm so glad to have these oral history accounts.
I have to include this man's picture because he just makes me smile. He was one of the guys that we called and invited and he fought in Germany in WWii. He brought his "scrapbook" and was the final veteran to leave the reception - he was eager for anyone who would listen to hear his stories!
I have no idea how many veterans that Will & I personally invited actually attended. I know that there were some conflicts for a few and none of the retirement homes were able to provide transportation that early in the morning. I do know, however, that getting to spend nearly a month driving around with Will and introducing ourselves to veterans and shaking hands was priceless. I am so thankful we each had the opportunity to tell so many in our community thank you.
We are forever indebted and overcome with gratitude.
Thank you to all of the veterans who have served our country.