Hoping to create a chain reaction of kindness and compassion, Washington Elementary School pupils on Monday "adopted" a World War II veteran, pledged to raise $1,000 to send the veteran to Washington, D.C., and immediately challenged other schools in Billings School District 2 to follow suit.
The schoolchildren have joined a statewide fundraising effort designed to send Montana's World War II veterans to Washington, D.C., to see the National World War II Memorial.
"My grandfather served in World War II and I've got cousins that are serving in the Army right now," said Patrick Manweiler, a sixth-grader. "I've heard how bad it is in world war."
Lillian Fix-Brierton, a fourth-grader, said war has touched her personally. Her father is currently serving in the U.S. Army and both of her grandfathers served in the Vietnam War. She feels compelled to help with the effort.
"I just want to send them so they can see the memorial so they can remember helping our country get freedom," Lillian said.
Brad Lamere, a fifth-grader is also on board, pledging to buy raffle tickets and M&Ms during fundraisers to help underwrite the cost of the trip. "I want to do it so we could have more people fight for us, so we can be more protected."
The youthful pledges of support followed a 30-minute assembly during which Bill Kennedy, Yellowstone County commissioner, and George Blackard, commander of American Legion Andrew Pearson Post 117, discussed World War II, the role of veterans and the Big Sky Honor Flight. Kennedy and Blackard both sit on the Big Sky Honor Flight board of directors.
Debi Neese, a counselor at Washington who oversees the Kindness and Compassion Club, said that while other schools have expressed an interest in joining Washington's effort, the challenge is to have every school adopt a veteran.
"We all need to understand what it means to be a veteran," Neese said. "There is a lot of sacrifice. War touches a lot of people. It's not all pride and glory."
A Montana chapter of the Honor Flight Network was activated in October to honor the state's World War II veterans. Thirty-three states now have the Honor Flight program. The purpose is to take veterans to the World War II Memorial on the National Mall free of charge on a chartered flight. Montana has the second-highest number of veterans per capita, behind Alaska.
"A lot of men and women put their lives on the line to protect this country," Kennedy told the pupils. "To honor those World War II veterans for giving of themselves, it is important to get them back to Washington, D.C., to see the National Monument that was built for them."
To date, about $50,000 in cash and pledges has been raised to help underwrite the inaugural flight that will take 100 veterans to the nation's capital. To date, 130 World War II veterans have signed up to go. Those selected for the inaugural flight will be on a first-come, first-served basis. The only exceptions are veterans of any war or conflict who are terminally ill. They have priority.