Pam Dudding-Burch Contributing writer
Before Paul Moore passed away last year, he visited the Craig County schools to convey his love for his country and his loyalty to his community. Moore was a retired veteran, who served the local VFW Post #4491 for many years as the Post Commander.
He was often heard saying that he loved the kids in Craig and would do all he could to encourage the ‘love for our country’ to them. But even more often, he was found doing exactly that.
Each year the Veterans of Foreign War, VFW, sponsors a youth essay writing competition for students of the local schools to express their views on annual patriot themes. District 6 schools include: Radford-Montgomery, Covington, Roanoke County, Roanoke, Fincastle, Bedford, Clifton Forge, Vinton, Buchanan, Amherst and Craig County.
There are two different levels of entry. ‘The Patriot’s Pen’ is open to sixth through eighth grade students and ‘The Voice of Democracy’ (VOD) to high school students. Students must submit an essay written by themselves with a length of 300-400 words.
The Patriot’s Pen had more than 120,000 students participate last year. The national winners receive at least $500 and the first-place national award is $5,000.
The VFW established the Voice of Democracy program (VOD) in 1947. This provides students an opportunity to win a top scholarship of $30,000 as well as being honored by the National VFW and Ladies Auxiliary.
Both winners also receive an all-expense paid trip to Washington, D.C. for them and a parent or guardian. This year’s theme was, “The America I Believe In.”
“This was the first-year Craig County Middle School offered writing as an individual class for the eighth grade students,” said Melissa Whiting, a teacher who encouraged her students to participate in the essay contest.
“Paul Moore, one of the VFW officers, was the first speaker that presented to our classes,” Whiting said. “The students were very interested in his presentation and he spoke passionately about the VFW, veterans and the military.”
She also shared that the students had many questions for Moore and several of them shared stories about family members serving in the military and of those who lost their lives while serving our country.
Whiting said that although this was an optional assignment for the students, she had excellent participation. “All of the essays were meaningful and well written,” she said.
One student, Emma Todd, wrote in her introductory paragraph, “Around the world, America is seen as a symbol. To some countries, America is seen as the symbol for freedom, or just possibly an unknown land. To me, America is seen as the “land of the free and the home of the brave.”
Eighth-grader Gavin Shires placed first and Callie Miller, another eighth grader, took home second place. Gavin has a sister, Sarah Obenchain, who is currently serving in the Navy in Hawaii. “She also served in Japan and El Salvador prior to Hawaii,” he added.
Shire’s last two paragraphs were: “Lastly, Americans have the passion to accomplish nearly anything they set their minds to; whether big or small. The United States has achieved nearly impossible feats. There are so many acts of goodness and progress in our country, and yet, there is so much more potential in America.”
“While there are still hateful acts in the United States, such as disrespecting peaceful protesters, discrimination based on gender, race, color or sexual orientation, we will attempt to repair the problems. It may take years for America, but there are still people who envision the dream of liberty, and they have the true potential to change America for the better. America is the Land of the Free, but that is interpreted for the allowance to be hateful. That will change as soon as kindness and fellowship are imbedded into the American lifestyle. When these changes occur, for the first time, America will be truly free, and that will become the America I believe in.”
Miller shared that her Grandfather, Jimmy Garrett served in the Army. Some of Miller’s essay comments were; “The saying, “All gave some, some gave all” very accurately describes war. Many lives have been lost in order to defend our country and its citizens. The lives not lost at war were extremely affected by the cruel images witnessed during fighting. Post traumatic stress disorder is a very common ailment that most veterans suffer from after bravely defending our home. The troops going through the hardest experiences of their lives are some of the people we need to appreciate for helping the United States become what it is now. All of America’s citizens should be thankful and show respect to all people who have made it what it is today. The United States represents strength in my eyes, and hopefully everyone else’s. My country and its citizens have risked everything to ensure that our rights remain intact, our people keep their freedom and human beings all around the world respect our power.”
“As the eighth-grade students enter high school next year, writing will become even more important to their academic achievements,” Whiting added. “The opportunity given to them by the VFW helped them see that quality writing is an essential tool for all walks of life.”
The title theme for ‘The Voice of Democracy’ was; “My Responsibility to America”. The students had to record their reading of the draft to an audio CD or flash drive. The recording could be no shorter than three minutes and no longer than five minutes. Once the student created their essay and completed burning the audio version to an audio CD/flash drive, they submitted their typed version, CD/flash drive and the Voice of Democracy entry form to their local participating VFW Post.
Lauren Burgess, high school teacher assisted her students with ‘The Voice of Democracy’ entries in her English class. Two 11th graders won. Taylor Price took first and Lindsey Price placed second, both submitting good essays, (but unavailable for print.)
“We are proud of our students for participating,” Lee said. He also echoed the words of Moore, “The VFW wants to encourage our youth of today and let them know that their voice means something to us.”
Billy Lee, the new Post Commander explained that all entries begin at Post level. First place winner received a $75 check from the local VFW and $50 for second place. “The local First place winners are then submitted VFW Department state level and then the one First place winner from each state goes to Nationals.”
Last year, Moore said. “It’s more than a writing competition, it’s an opportunity for the youth of today to express their viewpoints and take part of what America is right now.”