Originally Published: April 6, 2003 10 a.m.
"Today at school, we learned a lot about what you guys are doing," Harmon's letter continues. "I especially like how you parachute. You are some of the best and bravest troops in the world. I thank you a lot for protecting our country."
After drawing a U.S. flag and a happy face wearing a USA hat, he printed "God Bless the USA." Then he closed with, "May God be with you, Harmon Gale."
Principal Mark E. Branson said the letter-writing project began at the request of students who wanted to do something special for soldiers.
"They have friends or relatives serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom and wanted to express appreciation to local servicemen and women from Arizona for their service to our country," he said.
Teachers Susan White, Anni Thowson, Koyuki Branson and Kyle Maestri helped students organize their letters.
"I don't know where to put 'Love Aliyah,' because I filled up this whole sheet of paper," said kindergartner Aliyah Joy White, 5. "I said, 'I hope you come home safely' and that he's not captured."
A teacher suggested she turn her letter over and put the closing there.
At another table, Erica Ebarb, 13, was making artwork for Chris Johnson, a teacher's nephew serving in the U.S. Army. Her color drawing included Earth surrounded by a ring of hearts, an American flag, an Easter cross, and a garden.
In the upper left, she wrote, "God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, Even though the earth be removed, And though the mountains be carried in the midst of the sea – Psalm 46:1-2."
She planned to include the drawing with a letter urging him to come safely and thanking him "for helping in the war."
Another seventh-grader, Julie Welch, 13, made a similar drawing for Aaron Selph, an acquaintance in the U.S. Army.
"I drew a bird nest in the corner, representing springtime, and I'm asking him how he's doing and letting him know how our church is doing," Julie said.
Other student letters are as follows:
"Dear Tim Howe: I hope you come back home safe and don't get your car bomb. – Love, Timothy Branson" (age 8.)
"Dear U.S. Troops: ... I have four pets. I hope you all are safe and God will protect you and your troops...Thank you for protecting us. I will be praying for you. Love, Deanna Carol Bingham" (age 9).
"Dear USA Troop and allies – I pray for you every day. I hope you win the war. But I know we already have. ...
"I live by a preserve. We see antelope all the time. We have two dogs named Lola and Jed ... They know how to sit and shake (hands) ... When they shake they get treats, so they shake all the time! Thank you for your courage. God bless you ... Sincerely, Chelsea Derry" (age 9).
"Dear U.S. troops and allies, Thank you for fighting for our country. You probably miss your families (if you have a family). I and many of my friend and family are praying. I'm glad you are trying to free Iraq. I've heard bad stories about what Saddam Hussien did to people. It's very sad.
"Today we (see) what you are doing and where you are going. You are very smart people to have the idea of bringing men down with parachutes. I hope you keep safe. Remember God is with you. Psalm 23:4: Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil for God is with me. Your rod and your staff they comfort me.
"I hope you do good. I hope you are encouraged by my letter. If you can write me back I'd appreciate it... God Bless America." – Marissa Branson, 10.
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