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Patriotic prose gains national acclaim

OAK HARBOR - Becky Perry wants to be a doctor, but the Oak Harbor teenager could have a bright future as a writer, according to the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

An essay written by the eighth-grade student at Oak Harbor Junior High School won third place nationally in a contest sponsored by the VFW, topping all but two entries out of more than 74,000. For her writing, Becky won prizes including $5,500 in savings bonds from the national VFW.

“I don't think I could be any prouder of her,” said Becky's mother, Gina Perry. “She just wrote about the things she's seen.”

Becky's paper began as a class assignment in the fall: In 300 to 400 words, answer the question “What does it mean to be patriotic?”

In her 394-word essay, she focused on the ways patriotism can be experienced: seeing a small-town street lined with American flags, or listening to the words of Lee Greenwood's anthem “I'm Proud to be an American.”

“You can see patriotism and you can hear patriotism and you can feel patriotism,” Becky, 13, wrote. “If you obey the laws of our country, respect yourself and others, and believe the words of the Pledge of Allegiance, sing the National Anthem with pride and fly our flag high and with honor, then you have lived patriotism.”

Oak Harbor teachers screened more than 300 essays written by seventh and eighth graders and submitted 36 entries to VFW Post 8732 in Oak Harbor. More than 100 other VFW posts in Ohio received essays. The winning papers advanced to 12 district competitions, and the dozen-best essays moved on to the state level.

Becky's paper was judged the best by Post 8732, at the district level, and by the Ohio chapter of the veterans' advocacy group.

Becky said she was stunned by her paper's success.

“I didn't think anything like I was going to win. I thought it was nice,” she said, smiling. “I thought I'd get an A, but I didn't think it'd go anywhere.”

Members of Post 8732, which judged the local contest entries, thought otherwise.

“We have three judges, and they all picked this one,” said Joyce Nixon, a member of the post's ladies auxiliary. “We knew we were going to win the district.”

Becky won $50 from the local post, $200 from the VFW district, $300 from the state organization, and the $5,500 in savings bonds for placing third nationally.

From her winnings, she donated $100 to buy a stone in Oak Harbor's Circle of Honor memorial that will be engraved with the name of her grandfather, George Villa, a World War II veteran. In a sad note, Mr. Villa died just days before Becky learned in January her essay advanced to the state competition.

She intends to use the rest of her prize money for college.

“I want to go to Ohio State, and I want to be a physician,” she said. “I like health, and I just like to help people.”

Becky said her literature and language arts teachers from the last three years helped her improve her writing, while Principal Dan Kalo - a Marine who was wounded in Vietnam - taught her about the sacrifices made by veterans.

“He always talks about that kind of stuff,” she said. “I knew how people died ... but since he was there, he makes it seem like you're right there.”

Mr. Kalo, whose office is decorated with American flags and the Marine insignia, said Becky's essay reflects the way Oak Harbor remembers its war dead and other veterans.

“We have an active VFW, an active American Legion, ... and that's what Becky referred to in her essay,” he said. “We still have the parades; it's still held in reverence here.”

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