New Berlin - Although desert sand is a far cry from the snows of a white Christmas, American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan will soon receive a blizzard of holiday well wishes and thank yous - all from youngsters at Ronald Reagan Elementary School, 4225 S. Calhoun Road.
The children wrote more than 600 letters and many drew pictures to let soldiers know they are appreciated.
This is the second year the Ronald Reagan youngsters sent holiday greetings. Last year's letters brought responses such as, "It's so good to know people at home thought of us." And, "This touches my soul." And, "Your letters inspire us to keep going every day."
The soldiers also sent pictures of themselves where they were serving. The photos were assembled into a collage by the organization through which the childrens' letters were sent.
Fourth-grade teacher Rose Zarske said this is one writing assignment the kids threw themselves into.
You usually have a couple of kids who really aren't drawn into an assignment, she said. Not so with the letters to the soldiers.
"There wasn't one kid who didn't want to do it," she said.
This was after she made sure they understood how those serving in the military around the world sacrifice and serve. For example, she told her fourth-graders how American soldiers have kept war away from United States soil. While Ronald Reagan students have to practice fire drills, children in some places around the world practice bomb drills, she said.
Defending America isn't easy, she pointed out. Instead of sitting down to dinner with their families, American soldiers sometimes only have meals ready to eat (MREs), she told the class. So, the students were ready, even eager, to write, and write they did.
"Once they started, they had no problem filling a page," Zarske said. "They were excited to do it."
What particularly pleased her was that some of the students asked if they could also draw pictures for the soldiers. They wanted to go above and beyond to make the letters special.
"They were proud to be doing something good for someone else," Zarske said. "That says they care about other people."
Mouths of babes
Among the mini-missives is a letter that a little first-grader named Sammy wrote: "Dear veterans, Thank you for protectig us and our country. We are proud of you."
An unsigned letter from a second-grader reads: "Every single day of our life, you're protecting all of our citizens. I'm so glad you're a soldier. You mean a lot to us. I love that you're so brave to do this .... You're the best."
An exceptionally organized second-grader named Jadelyn used bullet points to extend her thanks: "Dear soldier, Thank you for:
- protecting our freedom
- risking your life for us
- protecting us from enemies
- keeping our country (USA) safe
- being there for us when we need you
You have been so brave. I appreciate you doing nice thing for us."
A fourth-grade author named Christopher wrote: "I appreciate your sacrifice you did for us. I know you miss your family, but I am grateful for all you are doing for protecting our country. If it wasn't for your bravery our country could've been powered by another. Thank you so much for our freedom and safety. I hope you stay safe." He ends with, "We want you to know that you are a hero!"
Fourth-grader Safia wrote in part: "I know it's hard to go in the military, but thank you for your sacrifice .... I hope that you stay safe and get back to your family soon."
Another fourth-grader, Gianna, wrote: "Thank you for serving in the war. I look up to you because you risked your life for me and everyone who is here. I appreciate you. It must be scary out in the war. You left your family to serve and save us. Thank you so much .... Hope you make it home safe to your family one day."
Sixth-grade Tyler wrote in part: "Your duties have helped our country extremely. It has given us kids the opportunity to go to school and have the lives we want to. My class is very grateful for your service. Because of your service now we can stay in America and live freely. Your service and sacrifice is what drives me every day to be the best version of myself that I can be. Thank you for being so brave as to leaving family to fight for the rights of our country. Now we can stay in this country and live a great life .... I will never be as brave as you, to leave your family and go serve for the army. I admire you, you're a gigantic role-model for me."
Sixth-grader Riley wrote in part: "Thank you for all you risked for us. Thank you for being brave enough to leave your family. You left your family to fight for OUR country .... You are a very brave person, brave enough to fight. Thank you for not giving up. I know well enough that the camps are not a hotel. I bet you were tired, cold and sad, but you did't give up. You stayed and fought for the country .... I am proud to say that I am an American because of you .... My family, my friends and I are grateful for your courage and will to fight for this country .... Thank you for all that you did and still do for us. I hope that your family is as wonderful as you are."
The letters will go to soldiers in five locations in addition to Iraq and Afghanistan. Honduras is one of those additional locations, but the others bear military addresses that left her guessing, Zarske said. Packets of letters are addressed to individual soldiers who have some connection with the school. None are parents, but they are families or friends of Ronald Reagan families, Zarske said.
The hope is that they will pass the letters around in their units, she said.
"One man serving might be with 40 or 50 others," she said. The letters that were mailed Friday should take two or possibly three weeks to reach their destinations.
A bunch of letters also was delivered to the Hoeppner-Horn Brothers VFW Post 5716 for the service to the country of veterans there.
The letter writing was only one of the ways Ronald Reagan Elementary youngsters honored veterans this year. They also sold American flags, raising enough money to send five veterans on Honor Flights to Washington, D.C. They set the flags out on the lawn in front of the school.
The youngsters also brought in photographs of veterans in their families and friends to create an honor wall at school. More than 100 photos are displayed.