Veterans across East Texas are getting notes of appreciation for Valentine’s Day that are reminiscent of something they often anticipated most during military service — mail call.
Students from Pine Tree ISD’s Birch Elementary School joined Hospice of East Texas personnel at Heritage at Longview Health and Rehabilitation center Thursday to present student-written thank-you letters to veterans who live or work at the facility.
The mixer-type event attracted a crowd of residents including Army veteran Ozell Holland, who was dressed in an American-flag-themed shirt and hat when 9-year-olds Nevaeh Clugston and Averie McQueary greeted him.
“Are you proud of this country?” Holland asked Nevaeh, who nodded affirmatively. “Very good, very good.”
Amy Clugston, Nevaeh’s mom and a Pine Tree ISD instructional coach, told her, “He helped make this country what it is today. ... You have a responsibility. You have to do your part.”
That appreciation is a valued byproduct of Thursday’s presentations, Birch Elementary School Principal Derrick Conley said.
“It lights (veterans) faces up,” Conley said, “and it helps our kids understand and appreciate the things that we have that are a direct result of the service of these people.”
The letters were written by Birch students after a 7 a.m. school assembly Oct. 11 in which military service people and veterans greeted children and explained their branches of services, said Hospice of East Texas’ John Lehenbauer and Julie Rucker.
Lehenbauer’s wife is a fourth-grade teacher at Birch Elementary. The children were taught about the importance of mail call, which was used to disperse mail when these veterans were active military, he said. The system still is used in military boot camps.
At least 305 letters are being delivered to veterans in nursing homes from Jacksonville and Tyler to Marshall, including more than 100 letters to Longview facilities, he said.
Each veteran also receives an American flag, a flag for their military branch, a branch pin, a certificate of thanks signed by the medical director for the nonprofit hospice and a door piece “so that anyone who goes by their room knows that there’s a military veteran in that room and which branch that they’re in,” Lehenbauer said.
“People donate and give to us all the time,” he said, “so we want to give back to the community, and this is one of the ways we can give back to the community.”
Billy O’Neal, assistant activity director for Heritage at Longview, also received a letter and care package from the students to honor his three years’ service in the Army.
When asked his thoughts about the presentation, O’Neal responded, “Just a feeling of joy that they can really appreciate veterans that need to be appreciated.”
Conley said he hopes other schools hear of the mail-call idea and introduce it to their students, which could inspire more people to consider serving in the military as they enter adulthood, he said.
“I think honoring veterans is important for our young people,” Conley said, “and if you want to continue living in the greatest country in the world, we need to always help our kids understand the commitment of the people that went before them and honor them for their service.”
Jimmy Daniell Isaac covers the city of Longview and Gregg County. Follow him on Twitter: @jimmyisaaclives.