At a time when taking a “knee” has become the fashionable gesture of today’s youth, one Texas teenager gave the nation nearly 400 reasons why patriotism is still in style, transforming a community service project into a school-wide “thank you” to veterans.
Thirteen-year-old Kayla Armbruster, an eighth grade student at Lopez Middle School in San Antonio, took a suggestion from her father to write a letter to a veteran for her assigned community service project–only she expanded on the theme, KSAT reported.
Armbruster asked her English teacher, Jennifer Carsten, about getting other middle school students in other classes involved.
“I asked Mrs. Carsten, one of my teachers, to see if she could ask some of her students and ask some teachers to ask their students to write a letter to the veteran,” she said.
Shortly thereafter, she had 370 letters, of which 34 were compiled into a book and sent to 53 Fisher Houses, lodging for military families while their veteran receives treatment for illness, disease, or injury. Of the 71 Fisher Houses located worldwide, 53 are located in the U.S. at major military and Veterans Administration (VA) medical centers, near the hospitals they serve. Since 1990, the non-profit served 277,000 military families at no cost to the guests.
The 13-year-old told KSAT that Fisher Houses are like “Ronald McDonald houses, but for veterans’ families who can stay while the veterans are healing.”
Armbruster shared a few of the heartwarming letters that were published: “Thank you for your service. I’m glad that you fought for our country and risked your life for America’s freedom.”
Another stated: “You are my hero because I am also a military brat. My dad has been deployed.”
All 370 “Dear Veteran” letters are available online. Many expressed similar themes of gratitude and freedom. Some students decorated their letters with hearts, ships, or American flags. However, one Lopez Middle School student named Rachel may have best encapsulated the sentiments of many Americans. She wrote:
Sometimes I feel like you are not honored enough in this country. You put your lives on the line and stay calm about it. Veterans like you are giving their safety to fight for the U.S.A. To me, a veteran is a soldier that does more to serve even if they don’t get any fancy medals. You don’t complain about going to war or feeling homesick, you get your job done. People need to put themselfs [sic] in your shoes. If we did that the world, it would be a brighter place. I love our veterans and I hope you feel loved by your Fellow Americans.
About the student letters, Carsten said: “Middle school years aren’t always the easiest and so to hear what they had to say and their genuine sense of appreciation, that part, I think surprised me.”
She was not the only one to be surprised. Unexpectedly, Armbruster received a handwritten letter from the Milwaukee VA Fisher House. They awarded her a Challenge Coin for her gesture of creating the “thank you” book. The commemorative coin is usually reserved for those who serve in the military. They are rarely given to civilians, according to KSAT.
“Thank you for your kind letters and pictures expressing appreciation to our nation’s veterans,” the eighth grader’s father read from the Fisher House letter. The 13-year-old presented the coin to her principal, Eric Wernly.
“Thank you very much. You’ve done so much for our school and the veterans especially. And I’m very proud of you,” said Wernly.
Armbruster decided to gift the coin to her middle school where it will remain on display permanently. The campus just happens to be named for the late Jose Lopez, awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroic service during the Battle of the Bulge. He also received the Bronze Star and Purple Heart. Lopez, who lived in San Antonio since 1973, died in 2005.
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