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Elementary students in Rossford received a good lesson in the meaning of "veteran," as in military veteran, with the last Northwest Ohio Honor Flight of 2012, which took a group of Vietnam veterans to Washington from Toledo Express Airport last week.
Youngsters in Rossford's three elementary schools were among area students who penned letters to the vets thanking them for their service and sacrifices. It was a learning experience for the children, who studied the Vietnam War as part of their preparation and learned the meaning of military service. They also learned about Honor Flight Northwest Ohio, part of a national project that transports veterans from to Washington to visit their war memorials.
The letter writing exercise is called Final Mail Call.
At Eagle Point Elementary, fourth grader Julie Siewert said she had never heard of Vietnam before she learned about it in Amy Wagner's fourth grade language arts class.
In her letter, "I said thank you for serving our country," she said.
Her classmate, Johnathon Kellermeier, said the letter-writing process was an eye-opener for him as well. He said his grandfather served in the Navy in World War II, but he didn't know that this made him a veteran. He had read a book about the Vietnam War and seen a show about in on television, he explained. This background helped him write his letter.
"I wrote 'Dear Veteran, Thank you for serving our country. I too have a family member who was in the military. He was in the Navy. It was my grandpa,'" he said.
Jim Tichy, a spokesman for Honor Flight Northwest Ohio, said 141 Vietnam vets were on the local Honor Flight. The flight, the sixth and last one scheduled for the year, was sponsored by the family of a World War II veteran who died before he could make the trip. Students from the Perrysburg and Washington Local districts also participated in the letter-writing exercise.
"We do this for every single flight," he explained. "The veterans get anywhere from four to eight letters each."
The letters are very much appreciated, he added.
"The letters mean so much to them . . . to see that young people are showing appreciation for what they did so many years ago, it means so much to them," he said.
Eagle Point students have a military veteran in their building every school day -- principal Jeff Taylor. Mr. Taylor was in the Marine Corps and served in Operation Desert Storm, the first Iraq War, which liberated Kuwait after Saddam Hussein's invasion.
He said he has talked to classes about the Marines and what serving in that branch of the military was like.
Holly Schmidbauer, the principal at Rossford's Indian Hills Elementary, said the Final Mail Call letters were in keeping with the quote on the wall at her school: "We honor heroes to inspire our youth."
"I tell the students the veterans are our living heroes," she said.
Mr. Tichy said some Honor Flight vets have followed up their receipt of the letters with visits to participating schools.
"It has definitely generated a relationship," he said.