After the Sept. 11 Patriot Day observance at Joshua Cowell Elementary School, Principal Bonnie Bennett received letters from overseas that gave her the goose bumps.
The letters were in response to the Cougar students’ act of kindness – bringing to school various food and personal-use items that filled 68 care packages which were then mailed to American soldiers serving in various parts of the world. The mailing was made possible by the Cpl. Charles O. Palmer Support our Troops Program which was started by his parents, Charles and Teri Palmer, after the Marine soldier was killed while fighting the war in Iraq in 2007.
“Reading (the letters) gave me the goose bumps,” said Bennett at a special ceremony held during the morning assembly on Monday which she called the third – and final – chapter of the story that started during the days leading to the commemoration of Patriot Day.
One letter came from a commander in Afghanistan, another from a communications officer in Kosovo, a region in Southeastern Europe, and from “other places I’ve never heard of,” Bennett said to the students and guests at the morning gathering which included Congressman Jeff Denham of the 19th Congressional District of California, Manteca Unified Superintendent Jason Messer and other district officials. Denham was at the event to present a special recognition award to fifth grader Genevieve Florez whose brainchild, the sending of care packages to American soldiers overseas, caught the attention of the congressman who is, himself, a former soldier who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Excerpts of some of the letters were read during the program by selected students.
“Your gifts and packages are a welcome reminder of home and the generous determination of Americans everywhere to wage peace throughout the world,” wrote a soldier in Kosovo where their mission is “to provide a safe and secure environment and freedom of movement for all Kosovars.”
A letter from another American soldier serving in Kosovo described how the students’ thoughtful gifts helped not just the service men and women but the people in the country where they are stationed.
“On one occasion, I recall seeing a huge pile of firewood in the courtyard getting soaked by rain,” the soldier shared in his letter to the Cowell students.
“There was a large shed close by and I remember thinking, ‘why don’t they stack the wood in the shed and keep it dry? Just then, the door opened and I couldn’t believe my eyes. This large shed was filled with students seated behind small desks and little wooden tables! During our next visit, we returned with stacks of school supplies and other donations from sponsors in the United States. You may never meet a Kosovar (Kosovo citizen) but they know of your generous gifts and support to soldiers like me. My men are grateful too. I think it’s odd how one small piece of beef jerky can make a man so happy because it reminds him of home.”
Another soldier wrote about sharing the goodies with others. “I shared the boxes with another Marine so he and I will be replying back to the people who took the time to write us. We have some Djibouti families that live in the hills near one of our training areas here that we would like to give the extra items to if that is OK with you, guys. They live in shacks along the hillsides with no power or running water with temperatures over 100 degrees and the humidity (well over) 60 degrees every day. In short, it is always crazy hot over here and they have no access to any comfort items like what you have provided me and the Marines with.”
One letter included “a special thank you to Joey Goodman, the starting half back for the Manteca Junior Buffaloes. I was lucky enough to draw the care package with his letter and want him to know that you can’t win every game. However, if you play your best in every game you’ll always be a winner. Know that a man’s character is not defined only in victory, but in how well he faces the challenges of adversity.”
The young fifth grader who spearheaded the care-package project at her school was singled out by one soldier serving in Afghanistan who wrote to “particularly thank Genevieve. Many times, people say they want to do something, but allow circumstances or obstacles to slow them down. Genevieve turned her thoughts and desired into actions which benefited my unit here in Afghanistan.”
The principal also was praised by a soldier who thanked her “for shaping the lives of our youth and investing in the future of our country.
“Education and instilling knowledge into children is just one piece of your job as you have demonstrated today. You also set an example of American values, ethics, and morals these children will carry with them the rest of their lives. As a Boy Scout leader, we are taught the Scouts always learn far more than we teach – they learn by observing our actions, both positive and negative. Your efforts here clearly set an example well beyond the students who participated, but also to those who only observed, and I thank you for that.”
Thanks and sympathies were also sent to the Palmer family. A soldier wrote “to extend my sincerest sympathies for their loss, as well as my deepest gratitude for continuing their son’s service to the nation. Their selfless service and commitment is remarkable and I want them to know their efforts improve the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, of Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and civilian employees in these harsh deployed locations.”
Added another soldier, “We will carry on our mission to wage peace and so honor the memory of Cpl Charles O. Palmer II. God speed in all good things and keep the faith in your fellow citizens and soldiers.”