The story below sprung from our Care Package Project and, more specifically, the “Dear Marine” cards and letters we include in our packages.
“Dear Marine” mail is sent to us from children and adults across the nation. These letters have a huge impact on the Marines receiving them, and in some instances, that impact goes well beyond the Marine as this story poignantly reflects.
You’ll want to read this unique story all the way through. It will tug at your heart and remind you of an important lesson – a lesson the sixth-graders at Templeton Middle School faced when they were unexpectedly introduced to the Gold Star Mother of a Marine.
For more information on sending “Dear Marine” mail to our Care Package Project, visit www.thecarepackageproject.com or click here.
For one middle school student and her teacher, a simple school assignment has become a poignant lesson about life and death.
Judy Schatz, a business education teacher at Templeton Middle School in Sussex for the past 20 years, drew inspiration and an idea from Patricia Fry, a fellow teacher. Fry is the mother of a Marine and has become a pillar of support in an organization called MarineParents.com - her way of coping with the stress of her only child's 2005 deployment to Iraq and of connecting with other parents of Marines.
The idea is one that has been repeated probably thousands of times in classrooms across the country. Students write letters to random members of the military, a way to say thank you and to give some small taste of normalcy to those in war. Fry is one of those who helps prepare care packages - including letters from home - that are shipped overseas.
Schatz thought that in teaching her sixth-graders about letter writing, they might as well make the letters really count.
Melissa Martincich was a sixth-grader at Templeton and among the first batch of Schatz's students to write in late 2008. Melissa told me she sort of forgot about the letter, but remembers writing about her love of Irish dancing.
One or two Marines replied to students through their teacher that first year. Most didn't. When Schatz returned to school last fall, she was gratified to find a stack of about 25 letters that had arrived from Marines over the summer. She hunted down each student - Melissa was not among them - and passed the letters on to them.
"I thought it was really cool," Schatz said. "I left it up to the students and parents if they wanted to respond again." Now the anonymity was gone, and each of those Marines had a name.
The letter assignment has continued each quarter since with new groups of students.
In March, a letter arrived for Schatz from Laurie Hayes of Massachusetts, "Proud Marine Mom," as she signed off.
The letter started with words of gratitude.
"I am the mother of two young Marines. I am thankful to you for taking the time to talk to your students about the military. The importance of what they do every day to keep our country free. The sacrifices are sadly not even realized by some. It's nice to know that people like yourself support our Marines and soldiers by sending letters."
Schatz felt good as she read on, that her assignment was having an impact. Then, the unexpected.
"My oldest son Lance Corporal Kevin T. Preach was in Afghanistan. He was with 3/8 Weapons Company. He was a machine gunner. He was 21 years old. He was severely injured on Jan. 24, 2009, and died on Feb. 7, 2009.
"Two months or so later, I received his belongings from Afghanistan. Among his things was a letter from a little girl at your school. I finally just read it. I know my son Kevin must of loved getting a letter like that. I am sure he enjoyed reading it."
The letter was from Melissa M., she wrote. It was full of questions and excitement about dancing, "so funny and cute."
Schatz said she was shocked by the heart-wrenching news and, as sensitively as she could, shared the letter with Melissa, who was emotional as she read about the young man's death.
Melissa told me this week she was happy he held on to the letter.
"It was kind of sweet," she said. She's glad he was able to read words of appreciation for his service, and that his mother knows those words were written.
Melissa's mother, Manuela Martincich, called her daughter an emotional girl, a "deep soul" who gets it - understands the meaning of freedom and the sacrifices made to protect it. Even more so now.
Melissa said she feels grateful for that, but sorry for the sacrifice.
Both Melissa and Schatz wrote to Laurie Hayes again, and her response last week included a picture of Kevin in Farah Province, Afghanistan - thumbs up, as if all is OK.
Hayes, in her earlier letter, said Melissa's last question in the letter to her son was, "Do you want to come home?"
"Well, Kevin won't come home, but I got to read this letter," she wrote.
"I miss my son and wished he didn't suffer as he did, but it is heartwarming to me to know people like you and your students cared enough to write him a letter. Thank you so much for doing that. I will always keep this letter."
"Please tell your students a Marine mom said thank you."
She added that her younger son, Daniel Preach, is a Marine Reservist in Massachusetts and an emergency medical technician in his civilian life. Overseas deployment may be in his future.
And if it is, maybe letters from grateful strangers will follow.
To view this story on the JS Online website, click here…