LCS students connect with war veterans

Friday, June 7, 2013
Alejandro Waldman wrote to Vietnam veteran Sharolyn Walcutt as part of an eighth grade class project at Le Mars Community Middle School. The California woman responded with a letter, photo of herself, card and copy of a 1966 Newsweek article she was featured in. To order this photo log on to photo by Amy Erickson)

LE MARS -- Eighth graders at Le Mars Community Middle School write letters to veterans, hoping for a response.

In April, Alejandro Waldman received more than a letter back from the Vietnam veteran he randomly chose to correspond with.

The soon-to-be ninth grader also received a card, a copy of a 1966 Newsweek article and a photograph from Sharolyn Walcutt, of California.

Writing to veterans is a project for Barb Shostak's reading and language arts students at LCMS.

Each year students search for names of veterans on the Internet and randomly select one they would like to write to.

Then students use the online White Pages to find telephone numbers and addresses.

Waldman said he chose his veteran, Walcutt, for a couple reasons.

"I thought maybe a lot of people would be doing guys," he said. "Her name is close to my last name."

Students follow the same three-paragraph outline for composing their letters.

The first paragraph explains who they are, the second asks questions of the veteran and the last thanks the recipient for cooperating, Waldman said.

"I asked her what was her favorite thing at that time; what were her best and worst memories?" he said.

Waldman and his classmates' letters were sent to veterans in November, but he didn't hear back right away.

"It took about five months for her to respond," Waldman said.

In her letter, Walcutt wrote that "it was difficult for me to write about my experience in Vietnam," which is why her response was delayed.

"She told me some stories that happened to her during that time," Waldman said. "She was a nurse in the Navy."

He said he enjoyed writing to Walcutt and hopes to send a return letter this summer.

"It's fun because you meet new people and you know about their life if they answer," Waldman said.

He plans to save the Newsweek article, card, photo and letter sent by Walcutt, and his mom intends to frame them.

"My mom says to keep it because not a lot of people get that kind of stuff," the LCS student said.

Generally students receive a brief letter back, Shostak added.

Some students in her class this past fall received personal visits from the veterans they chose to write to.

For example, Ken Lubben, of Le Mars, a World War II veteran, came to the school and visited with a student, instead of sending a letter.

Shostak also invites veterans into class to speak to students, which this past school year included a Sioux City man.

"He brought food rations and pictures," Shostak said. "He talked about his life in the service."

She said she hopes to continue asking her eighth graders to write to veterans, if she can find enough candidates.

Shostak said she plans to contact American Legions in the area and other veterans groups by November.

The purpose of the project is to help students learn to do research and make personal connections, she said.

"I put all the return correspondence information they receive on the wall," Shostak said. "This year we didn't get nearly as many connections."

But some contacts made during the project have continued, she said.

For example, a high school student still corresponds with the veteran she wrote to as an eighth grader, Shostak said.

"They've become pen pals," she said. "That's a nice way to keep contact with somebody."