7th-graders' letters keep sailors happy Students provide a link with home

March 12, 1993|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Staff Writer

They've written about snow, the Super Bowl, the World Series and puppies -- anything that might remind a lonesome sailor about life in the States and more cheerful times.

But the correspondence between students in Lois Lee Porter's seventh-grade English class at Old Mill Middle School South and the sailors aboard the USS Guam is about more than that: It's about taking care of your own.

You see, aboard that ship is Lt. David Gray, a graduate of Chesapeake High and the Naval Academy, whose mother, Sondra Gray, still teaches at his high school alma mater.

"My friend Mrs. Gray was at a meeting one night and she told me about her son who was a food supply officer on the USS Guam," said Mrs. Porter. "She told me that many of the personnel on board the ship were only 18 or 19 years old and this was the first holiday many of them would be away from home. Mrs. Gray wondered if my class might like to write to the sailors, and I thought: 'They have to write letters. They might as well learn to write to real people.' "

The 29 students in her first-period class loved the idea, and --ed off their missives in time for the holidays.

"We wrote stuff we thought would make them feel good since they were away from home," said Pam Shifley, 12. "We thought they must have felt real lonely. But I didn't think they'd have time to write to us."

But Lieutenant Gray thought it was important to acknowledge the students' contribution to morale after the Guam, an amphibious assault ship, had been on a tour of duty in the Adriatic Sea off the coast of the former Yugoslavia.

"Before this inport period we had been at sea for 62 days straight," he wrote in a Dec. 25 letter mailed from Trieste, Italy. "That is a long time to go without hearing from loved ones and friends. Our schedule has been very erratic and your cards and letters have reminded us as to why we are here."

His letter was accompanied by a certificate for each student, naming each an honorary crew member, and a picture of the ship.

The students didn't want the relationship to end there, though. Since receiving Lieutenant Gray's letter, they've been busy covering a 25-foot-long poster with artwork and messages such as "Be Brave," "We Salute You," and "Please come back to America -- Get Home Safely."

They plan to mail the poster, five pounds of hard candy they purchased with money they collected, and, of course, more letters at the end of this month.

Tabatha Miller wanted to let Lieutenant Gray know how much she appreciated being made an honorary crew member, and attached a little something extra to her letter:

"To show my thanks I have given you a friendship bracelet. I made it myself. I didn't know what size to make it, so I made it the size of my dad's wrist . . . Thank you for protecting our country. It takes a lot of courage to leave your family."

Jai Steele, 12, wrote to invite Lieutenant Gray to visit the class when he returns and "say hello." "For now, I hope you come back safe," he said in his letter.

Dru Bocock summed up the sentiments of many class members: "I wish you were here on the 21st to see all the snow we had. The four inches of snow made for great sledding, seems as though we always get snow when we have no school."

Mrs. Porter said the experience has stimulated her students' interest in learning.

"More teachers need to give students a reason for writing letters and learning geography," said Mrs. Porter.

"I learned responsibility," said Jamie Taylor, 12. "I felt responsible for writing those letters because I felt they [the sailors] needed some security. They needed to be comforted being on the ship."

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