October 3, 2011

Reflections on a Veteran, Part II

Previously posted is Caitlin's middle school level award-winning essay, and Jessica's high school level award-winning essay is as follows:

Reflections on a Veteran
Jessica, age 16, at Daley Plaza in
Chicago after reading her essay
"My best friend is graduating this weekend at the age of 18. I am so close to her that I feel like the two years separating us are only on paper, and do not really exist. It is almost impossible for me to imagine that nearly 65 years ago, young men her age, and even younger were preparing to land on far off islands to fight a war that had inspired them so much that they left their families and educations behind. One such person was Cpl. Jim Kelly of the 5th Marine Division who, among other things, was present for every moment of the Iwo Jima battle.
"As I interviewed Mr. Kelly, I could barely open my mouth to ask the next question because I was so taken aback. I have known him for many years as a kind and humorous man who belonged to the Marine Corps League in our town. It struck me that this man quietly walked among us, enjoying a relatively simple life, yet he had such an incredible story.
"He told me many things – some shocking, some funny, some heartbreaking … and some haunting. He recounted all of this in a very relaxed and accepting way, but he seemed angered and disillusioned at the lack of appreciation and awareness that my generation has for those who have served our country. He believes we are disconnected from what he and his fellow servicemen went through because it this history – his history – is taught as an impersonal and distant event. I understood what Mr. Kelly meant because anything I ever learned about Iwo Jima in school was from a brief description at the end of a World War II chapter in my history book. It was merely information to memorize temporarily in order to score well on the next test. There is a completely different side of the story – the reality – that isn’t written in a textbook.
"I believe this troubles Mr. Kelly because we are the young people for whom he was fighting, for our freedom to attend school and to receive a quality education, which is the key to achieving any dream a person can imagine.
"World War II veterans are now 85 to 90 years old, and they will not be around forever. They have endless stories to share with us that will teach my generation the kind of lessons that can never be printed in a history book. The owners of these invaluable lessons are all around us. All they need is someone to truly listen to their wisdom, appreciate their dedication, and exhibit the qualities they fought to uphold so many years ago. 'Think what we built for you,' Mr. Kelly said, 'and don’t take it for granted.'
"In a couple of years, it will be me who will be graduating at the age of 18. I will begin life anew, independent in a world filled with possibilities, filled with dreams that I have the freedom to realize because of the selfless service of men like Mr. Kelly. I will begin this new life with a dedication to uphold honor and justice, and a determination to make the world a better place for future generations. By following the example set by these veterans, I will have the inspiration to work toward great things, perhaps things great enough for a high-school student to want to interview me when I am 90 years old."

October 2, 2011

Reflections on a Veteran, Part I

My daughters each submitted an essay last year to the State of Illinois' "Reflections on A Veteran" competition through the Secretary of State's office. Both of them were honored by being selected as the winning essay in their respective grade levels and was then invited to read their essays at the Constitution Day ceremony in Chicago Sept. 14.

Here is Caitlin's middle school level award-winning entry, with Jessica's to follow in a second post:

Reflections on a Veteran
Caitlin, age 14, at Daley Plaza in
Chicago after reading her essay
"Growing up surrounded by veterans certainly has impacted my life in a number of ways. I have a greater appreciation for the sacrifices made by veterans. Their willingness to serve their country allows me to have the freedom that I do today.

"In a civilian’s eyes, veterans are the definition of heroes. Their courage and determination allows us to pursue our dreams and achieve our goals because of the rights they have defended.

"In a veteran’s eyes, however, it is only a matter of right and wrong. The right thing to do is to honor their country.

"Being raised to have the upmost respect for those who serve, I can’t imagine my life if not for veterans. I’ve learned to show my gratitude openly and often. My interview with Tom Henderson, a World War II veteran, only reinforced those beliefs.

"I have known Mr. Henderson for many years now, but in this interview I saw another, deeper side of him, full of memories of the war, reflections and appreciation of fellow veterans. It was meaningful to me to know what experiences he has had and to see how much he, and other veterans, have given to their communities and their country.

"In times of war, the general population’s feeling is shock. Everything changes in the world around us, and there is confusion and hesitation. Veterans take initiative and respond. There are no doubts, no regrets. The responsibility to respect and, therefore, defend this country is clear.

"Every night, I am able to go to sleep knowing that I am safe and at home. However, for these veterans who were miles away from home, every day was a day of survival. They always had to be ready and do what they were told to do promptly. I can’t imagine the kind of pressure and fear they must have felt in that kind of situation. Just hearing about it made me thankful for my life and what is so often taken for granted.

"Constantly depending on others fighting alongside of them, strong friendships are formed. One story that specifically stood out for me during the interview was about a close friend of Mr. Henderson’s. His buddy had accidently shot himself and was buried. His body was then exhumed and moved twice. Mr. Henderson and some others who served with him did not know where their friend’s final resting place was. After research was done many years later, the gravesite was finally located. Simply knowing where his friend’s grave was located was enough to bring closure and peace to a painful memory.

"After being so brave and honorable, they return home. Glad to be reunited with family and friends, but also struggling to find jobs to support themselves. Although they may be home, the repercussions and aftermath from the war leave shortages of just about everything. Through all of the conflicts following the war, their service doesn’t stop when the war does, but rather continues through organizations such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion. A night doesn’t go by when they don’t think of an event or a memory from all those years ago, far away from home.

"I was particularly impressed by Mr. Henderson’s great sense of respect for his country, his community, and the people around him."