03/29/12 — Elementary students pen letters to thank those who served in Vietnam War

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Elementary students pen letters to thank those who served in Vietnam War

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on March 29, 2012 1:46 PM

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Gary Whaley, Mission M25 leader, speaks to the students.

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Spring Creek Elementary School students line up to thank Sherman Ludwig for his service in the Vietnam War. Ludwig and the M25 Motorcycle Ministry from First Pentecostal Holiness Church stopped by the school to pick up letters written by the third- and fourth-graders to deliver to the Vietnam Veterans Homecoming Celebration in Charlotte on Saturday.

Vietnam veteran Sherman Ludwig choked up a bit, visibly moved by Spring Creek Elementary third-grader Jacobe Leonard's letter.

It was a tribute to the men and women, like Ludwig, who served during the Vietnam War.

"Thank you to all the Vietnam veterans that fought bravely to serve and protect our country," Jacobe said. "From the bottom of my heart, I say thank you and I'm proud to be an American because of people like you."

It wasn't lengthy or flowery, but it meant the world to a veteran who said his homecoming from war was not the same as those that occur today.

And he said he felt it would mean as much to the more than 61,000 veterans he and his fellow members of Mission M25 would be delivering the thank-yous to this weekend in Charlotte.

Spring Creek welcomed the motorcycle ministry to the school Wednesday as the veterans and riders began their journey to the Vietnam Veterans Homecoming Celebration planned Saturday at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

The students had prepared a package of letters and notes for Mission M25, a motorcycle ministry at First Pentecostal Holiness Church, and gathered Wednesday in an assembly to pass them to the riders who would make the trip.

"Hello, Gators!" Gail Richards, principal, chanted before introducing the school's special guests.

Instructional assistant Sherry Bryson, who attends First Pentecostal Holiness and participates in the ministry with her husband, had invited M25 to make the appearance.

"I have been telling my friends how proud I was that you have taken the time to write letters to the veterans," she told the student audience.

Gary Whaley, leader of M25, shared more about the visit.

"One of the big things we do is support our military, our active military and our veterans," he said. "This weekend we're going to the Charlotte Motor Speedway, to celebrate and welcome home all the Vietnam veterans on the East Coast. We have got 61,000 veterans who are coming this weekend."

The letter-writing campaign was primarily a third-grade effort, Mrs. Bryson said.

"About 140 third-graders participated in the project," she said. "Also, we have had some response from other grade levels that have written letters as well."

It also provided a teachable moment, she said.

"We have kind of touched base on the war, because they're familiar with the Afghan war and current wars. Because they're third-graders, they truly do not understand war. ...

"Plus, Spring Creek has a big Hispanic population, so our parents might not have been born in the USA but they need to understand the culture."

Whaley had taken such background information to heart, using the assembly as an opportunity to share the message of freedom, and the importance of remembering that fateful war decades ago.

"A lot of your parents were not born when Vietnam was going on," he told the crowd. "That was a very, very bad war that America had to suffer through and a lot of lives were lost."

About 50 bikes from the local ministry will make the trek to Charlotte Saturday, Whaley said, joining groups from Florida, South Carolina and Virginia, with an anticipated 180 bikers from Mission M25 attending the event.

"Our plan is to walk up and tell these veterans, 'Welcome home, thank you for serving our country, thank you for fighting for our freedom' and tell them, 'I have a letter from a child at Spring Creek that they wrote especially for you and we want to give to you,'" he said.

Ludwig, who himself served two tours in Vietnam, said the letters will mean something to the veterans who will gather Saturday.

Whaley added that he and members of Mission M25 are making sure those who serve today will not have the same homecoming as Vietnam veterans received.

"When these veterans came home, there was nobody to say 'thank you,' there was nobody to say, 'We appreciate what you have done,'" he said. "We can never let that happen again.

"That's why when these troops come back from Afghanistan, we let them know that we love them and we appreciate them. Never again will this nation allow these troops to come home and not be properly thanked."