The crayon-colored cards and words of encouragement drawn this morning by third-grade students at Lincoln-McKinley Primary School will not end up hanging on their parents' refrigerators or stored away in closets. They do not read "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Birthday" or even "Get Well Soon."
These cards will end up halfway across the globe in the hands of soldiers fighting in Iraq, and say things like "Thank you for serving," and "I hope you survive." Inspired by a Thursday program honoring the victims of terrorist attacks and the sacrifice of American military personnel, the students in Betty Callie's third-grade class made the cards as a part of a care package to be sent to U.S. soldiers.
"One of the problems they have over there is support and depression because all of the horror from what happens over there," said Heather Sinclair of Havre, whose brother left his home in Malta last week for a second tour in Iraq after a bittersweet reunion with his family.
Sinclair, who has a son at Lincoln-McKinley, asked Callie if her students would make the cards for soldiers in Sinclair's brother's unit. The cards will be accompanied by a video of the Thursday program, which was performed by the students of every third-grade class at Lincoln-McKinley. The program included a slide show of photographs from Sept. 11, 2001, and the war in Iraq, and students sang nine songs with patriotic themes.
"The last song they did was 'American Tears,'" said teacher Shelly Bailey. "It's all about the patriots and heroes of this country. I cry every time I hear it. It's just a beautiful song. The third-graders just gave it all they had."
The performance was attended by many parents and community leaders, who gave the students a standing ovation, Bailey said.
"It was more than just a program," Sinclair said. "It was so moving. It was unbelievable. There was a lot of tears."
Although the students who performed the program are young, they were able to grasp the gravity of the events of Sept. 11 and the war in Iraq, she said.
"I think they understand. My brother sent me pictures from the war in Iraq that my son took to class at the beginning of the year. Ms. Callie's class understands what's going on over there," Sinclair said.
Sinclair's brother, Sam Gordon, was a sergeant with the 3rd Infantry Division before his promotion following his first tour. The unit was one of the most active in Iraq, and was responsible for capturing Saddam International Airport and a key bridge over the Euphrates River, Sinclair said.
It was from talking to her brother and reading his journal that Sinclair learned about the trauma her brother experienced during the war, like the time his unit was getting shelled and he nearly didn't make it into his foxhole, or when his best friend in the unit was killed in action and posthumously awarded U.S. citizenship.
"I also got to read his journal, and it was very gruesome," she said. "He was very detailed about everything that happened. There were also some parts where he was sure he was going to die, which were very emotional."
Sinclair was reunited with her brother in September when he returned from Iraq. The two had last seen each other at a relative's funeral in 1994.
"He actually grew up," she said of the September meeting. "Oh my gosh, what a change. He was all grown up. It was like 'what happened?'"
The 31-year-old Sam Gordon had just enough time to meet his newborn daughter and become reacquainted with his family when he learned he would be immediately redeployed.
"He came home and we gave him a big home welcome, but then he had to go back," Sinclair said. "We just got news last week that he was going back. He came home in September and wasn't supposed to go back for three years."
Sinclair said she is proud of her brother and thinks the soldiers in Iraq do not receive enough support.
"He didn't get some of his care packages before," she said. "He and his troops needed a lot of encouragement the first time. I know what he's going into from what he talked about the first time he came home.
"They go through some tough times, they see some bad things, and we don't know half of what goes on over there. That's why I'm doing this, because he needs that support."