Six years ago, Marilyn Burt, art teacher at Holy Family School in Shorewood, asked the second graders to write “thank you” letters to a World War II veteran.
Burt had no idea the activity would lead to a U.S. flag being flown over the Pentagon in honor of those students’ dedication to the Honor Flight program — but it did.
On March 8, these students, now in the eighth grade, were presented with the flag and a certificate of its authenticity, Burt said.
“I thought that was pretty impressive, that someone in Washington realized the importance of what they did,” Burt said.
Six years ago when she was teaching second grade, Burt said, her brother-in-law contacted her. At the time, he was a guardian with the Honor Flight program.
The Honor Flight Network is a national network of independent hubs that work together to provide veterans with “an all-expenses-paid trip to the memorials in Washington, D.C.,” according to the Honor Flight Network website. This gives veterans, World War II through Vietnam, the opportunity “to remember friends and comrades lost, and share their stories and experiences with each other,” the website said.
Burt’s brother-in-law was escorting a World War II veteran on the flight and asked Burt if her students would write to the veterans, thanking them for their service, which they did.
“They wrote letters and we took photos of them on the playground,” Burt said. “They made a big sign for him.”
Then in September of 2020, Burt’s brother-in-law sent her a news video featuring a World War II veteran in a nursing home who had kept a letter from a third grader in his wheelchair because he treasured it so much. In fact, that third grader was now an adult serving in the Army National Guard and got to meet the veteran, Burt said.
Moved by the video, Burt asked her brother-in-law if her students’ letters had a similar impact.
Burt’s brother-in-law “said he was sure that he was because the veteran had kept the letters by his bedside and read them frequently until he passed away,” Burt wrote in an email.
Burt said her brother-in-law wanted to know: Would those same students write letters again, this time to a Vietnam veteran? Of course! In fact, some of the students had relatives in the service and “realized the impact” their letters had, Burt said.
Unfortunately, this veteran wasn’t able to participate in the Honor Flight. But Burt had already given the letters to her brother-in-law, she said.
“He was so impressed with them, he shared them with a friend of his, the undersecretary at the Pentagon,” Burt said. “And when that man read them and saw how dedicated they were to the program, to write the letters, he decided to have the flag flown over the Pentagon in their honor.”
After the flag flew on Sept. 24, 2021, the flag was sent to the school and presented to the eighth grade class. Burt said the entire experience impressed them.
“Throughout the years, we might ask them to write letters or make cards for the military or the elderly – whoever that might be,” Burt said. “But you don’t realize how much that impacts them. You might not be thinking it’s a big deal. But to the people who receive them, it means a lot.”