School Children Help Firefighters with Christmas
Story & photos by Ex Captain Steven Grogan
December 19th, 2016- Francesca is 7 and in the second grade at West End School in Lynbrook. She and the other students in her grade recently wrote get well cards, Christmas greetings, and letters to our wounded servicemen and women. Those wishes and cards were then personally hand-delivered by Lynbrook firefighters, along with Lakeview and Levittown firefighters, on December 9th, to injured soldiers, Marines and Navy personnel receiving medical treatment and rehabilitation for their war wounds at the Walter Reed National Military Hospital at Bethesda, MD, and the Wounded Warrior Transition Battalion at Fort Belvoir, VA.
A total of over 600 Christmas cards and get well letters were made by school children from West End, and schools in Northport, Hicksville and Syosset. The firefighters also brought cards completed by children who signed them at the Winter Celebration festivities on Atlantic Avenue in Lynbrook on December 5th.
The Lynbrook Fire Department is part of Nassau County Firefighters Operation Wounded Warrior, a 501-3C charity that for the past 12 years has been helping our wounded warriors. Each year, Lynbrook and other Nassau County firefighters bring Christmas presents to the wounded at hospitals at Fort Bragg and Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, as well as to Bethesda and Fort Belvoir.
The cards and letters carried by the firefighters were placed in the gift bags that were given to those at Bethesda and Fort Belvoir by a firefighter dressed as Santa Claus. Most read the many cards before opening their presents and you could see it brought smiles to their faces. Each gift bag contained an IPad. Santa also brought toys for the soldier’s children.
One soldier was heard saying, “We are not used to someone serving us, we are used to serving others.” Another thanked the firefighters “For helping to protect his family in their home.” Most expressed shock that firefighters from Long Island had traveled that distance just to bring them Christmas.
One of those soldiers, US Army Master Sergeant Leeroy Evangelista, opened his gift bag and found Francesca’s letter. The master sergeant was wounded in Afghanistan after previously serving in Iraq. After first reading the letter to himself, the master sergeant rose from his chair and read Francisca’s letter, see photo below, to the other wounded soldiers attending a Christmas luncheon thrown by the firefighters for them and their families.
Francesca had written, “Get well soon. We pray for you. Sorry that you got hurt. Thank you for risking your life for our country and for me. Thank you.” Everyone clapped and there were some wet eyes. The master sergeant promised to answer Francesca and her classmates well wishes.
He did just that. On December 19th during an assembly of four second grade classes at West End, this writer gave Francesca the master sergeant’s reply. With the help of her teacher, Sara Dinowitz, who arranged the Christmas card campaign at the school, Francesca read his letter.
In part, the master sergeant wrote, “Thank you for your letters of concern and encouragement. I passed your messages along to the other wounded warriors and service members. The impact of your words brought tears to our eyes. We want you to understand it’s the little things that our countrymen do for us that give us a sense of purpose and pride. We really enjoy hearing from young warriors like you. You have truly beautiful hearts.”
He further wrote, “You have made our holidays warm and wonderful. You are the true heroes and inspire us to do the work we do. Continue to study hard and never give up on any dream you have in life. All things are possible with determination and hard work. Merry Christmas and thank you so very much to each of you.”
“Our students were so excited to write letters to individuals who they referred to as their heroes. A simple gesture bringing joy to those who deserve it most-that’s what the holidays are all about,” said Dinowitz.
As one resident said, after hearing about the firefighter’s trips to these wounded warriors, “How wonderful--so many lives touched by all the work you guys do, it makes for a very Merry Christmas for all.”
We should all be happy and proud that these children thought enough to write these men and women who deserve and need our constant prayers and thanks for their sacrifice.
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Revised: 23 Dec 2016 14:40:35 -0500 .
WEB DESIGNS BY DAN GILMARTIN