Members of the Chatfield Girl Scouts wait to present memorial wreaths during the Memorial Day program held May 31 at Potter Auditorium.
Members of the Chatfield Girl Scouts wait to present memorial wreaths during the Memorial Day program held May 31 at Potter Auditorium.
"'Here rests in honored glory, An American soldier, Known but to God,' The tomb says with power. To God I give my honor. I will lay this wreath." - "The Unknown," by Chatfield eighth grader Hannah Armstrong.

Armstrong wrote those words to express the patriotism she feels and her wish to participate in laying a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery "because I feel like we should honor the soldiers who fought for me and my freedom, and because I love my country."

She and classmates Marissa Hanson, Timothy Hawkins and Jennifer Hanson will lay a ceremonial wreath on the Tomb this coming week, June 26 through July 3, as Chatfield's eighth grade students make their annual tour of Gettysburg and Washington, D.C., with Chatfield social studies teacher Lee Becker and parents who accompany them as chaperones.

The quartet were among numerous eighth grade students who submitted essays, letters or poems telling why they felt they should have the privilege of presenting greens to fallen soldiers who returned home without identification.

Becker appoints judges to select the winning letters, essays and poems, then announces the names of the winners.

"I keep myself out of it because I'm their teacher for two years," he said. "The judges are given anonymous copies of the essays, and then the winners are chosen. It does take a lot of effort to write an entry."

Chatfield's eighth graders are given the chance to travel to Washington because their lives aren't as busy as the ninth and tenth graders' lives.

"They go every year. We decided it's the best time because it's the year before they start American History in ninth and tenth grade - they can look back on their experiences as they study."

Armstrong is pleased to board the bus "because I want to see all the monuments, I want to know about our founding fathers and our country.... I'm really excited to go to Gettysburg because we get to learn about the battles... and the George Washington Monument... explore Washington, D.C...."

Jennifer anticipates touring, as well. "We get to go see all the memorials, go to Gettysburg at nighttime, and we get to go on a boat cruise. Chatfield's really lucky to get to go in the eighth grade."

Tour itinerary

Their first stop in a major city finds the students in Chicago, touring the Sears Tower and the University of Notre Dame. Then they're off to Gettysburg, where they'll wander the musket-ball-filled battlefields.

"At Gettysburg, they do a walking tour of the cemetery, and one of the neatest things they do is a nighttime battlefield walk. The following day, they get to go on a guided tour, see highlights like Little Round Top and where the First Minnesota held the line."

Upon arriving in D.C., the students don't immediately tuck in for the night...they go "on a nighttime tour of the capital."

After they're rested, they go to Mount Vernon, Arlington National Cemetery, and also ride a river cruise boat on the Potomac, where they'll have a dance.

"They see everything... They're going to see a play at the Kennedy Center, and the Holocaust Museum is kind of a highlight, too," Becker related.

Marissa recalled how she was a little girl, 8 years old, when her family last visited Washington and how she only remembered going to the zoo. But now she would like to visit the Holocaust Museum because she feels it's important to witness that part of world history as captured in documents and photographs,

Hawkins stated, "I'm really looking forward to seeing the Vietnam Wall, Washington Monument, Arlington Cemetery and Gettysburg."

Becker commented, "It really gives the kids appreciation of the nation's history. The way the tour is set up... most kids will never go back, and this is something they couldn't do all on their own because the tour bus can drop them off at the door. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for most of them."

He noted a lot of the kids haven't been far beyond the greater Midwest area.

"It opens their eyes, and they might think 'maybe I could go be a page at the Capitol'."

For those students who choose not to go or cannot afford the trip, Becker invests an extensive amount of time in educating them on the history of the nation's capital and the battlegrounds that lie west in Gettysburg.

Unknown Soldier

"I also spend about three days studying the Tomb with the students. Everybody learns about the Tomb guards and how they can't talk for the first six months on duty, how they promise never to drink, smoke or swear in public."

He added that wreath-laying students are given instruction both on the bus and by the sergeant-at-arms on the day of the ceremony, and that there is protocol that must be followed.

Marissa related that "girls' dresses have to be a certain length," - and neatness and reverence are required. Timothy stated, "It's exciting to lay the wreath because the president gets to do it, and after laying the wreath, I can say I did a presidential duty."

Becker observed that "it's kind of neat how this trip breaks down the barriers of the class - you see kids talking to other kids they might not talk to in school," and how students learn to extend themselves to understand others better.

He concluded, "I have two daughters who went, and one of them came home over Christmas break and got out her scrapbook from the trip and started looking through it... they remember. It's been cool, too, for the parents who go, because they will always have this as a memory with their kids."

The poem and essays of the four who will lay the wreath at the Tom of the Unknown Soldier follow.

Poem by Hannah Armstrong

"To the Unknown"

"The gunshots were fired with pain and exhaustion,

The precious gift of life was lost,

A total of over 600,000,

The game of life was a 50-50 toss.

"The tomb is a piece of art,

Touching the very inside of my soul,

The life of those who fought still smolder,

Among the young and old.

"When given the opportunity of this chance,

The once in a lifetime moment I now see,

For the grandfathers who made their dance,

Across the foreign countries,

I will lay this wreath.

"The wreath that represents

The beating hearts making a melody with the shots,

The lives fought for us,

The freedom at which now I stand,

With this wonderful chance in my hand,

I will lay this wreath.

"The tomb is for those who love their country,

No matter if you see,

You can still believe,

The feelings felt by those who love,

Their spirits of the unknown fly like a dove,

White. Pure. Clean.

I will lay this wreath.

"The way the nation will move with freedom,

Once the wars will be over,

The guards can fill with pride,

For the future and past of my nation,

I will lay this wreath.

"To feel that I honored a loved one,

One who died for me,

Brings an unexplainable feeling to my body,

A feeling only I can feel,

I will lay this wreath.

"The feelings will engulf my heart,

The freedom of my patriots,

When I lay this wreath,

It will fall from my hands

To the hands of the unknown.

I will lay this wreath.

"The unknown will never be known,

Yet we can still show them honor,

As the unknown's spirits have flown,

To God above who shows them love,

They fought for our lives,

Through pain, blood and strife,

All I want to do is say

To show the freedom and my thanks to those

Who fought for me,

My class,

My family,

My country,

I will lay this wreath.

"'Here rests in honored glory,

An American soldier,

Known but to God.'

The tomb says with power,

To God I give my honor,

I will lay this wreath.

"I want to honor the ones

Who fought for me,

Fought for the way I can be free.

I want to show my country what I can be.

I will lay this wreath.

"To you, the unknown,

You are the loved ones of our country,

Your life has shown

Many Americans what we shouldn't take for granted.

I will lay this wreath.

"I love my country,

I love to be free,

I love to honor,

And for you, my unknown saviors,

I will lay this wreath."

Essay by Jennifer Hanson

"Having the once-in-a-lifetime privilege to lay the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier memorial would be a blessed, treasured memory to have to tell family, friends and my children and grandchildren.

"I have been lucky to have my relatives survive the wars to pass on their stories, and by laying the wreath, this is a way for me to have a story to keep passing down of the fallen soldiers who cared so much for our nation.

"Laying the wreath, standing next to the highest honor of the guard walking those perfect 21 steps, with moistened white gloves and his perfectly hand-cleaned uniform and shoes would be a unique memory to carry in my heart for a lifetime.

"I have been fortunate to have a family history of several relatives who have and are fighting for our nation. My grandpa fought in World War II, my uncle fought in the Vietnam War, my great uncles fought in the Vietnam War, my great-great uncle fought in World War I, currently, my cousin is in Afghanistan, and my cousin has applied this year to start training so he can go fight for our freedom.

"To lay the wreath in respect for their sacrifice would be an experience I would love to have, for my appreciation and dignity. I would be proud to lay the wreath at the Tomb to show my relatives that are looking down from heaven that I really do care. It would mean a lot because when my grandpa and uncle were done serving and came back to their families, they both committed suicide.

"The tomb represents to me the soldiers who lost their lives so we could have better lives. Our nation has many rights and freedoms that we wouldn't have today if it wasn't for the bravery of our American soldiers. Laying the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier will show that I am proud to be an American because of the soldiers. It will show my thanks and give my love toward them... I want to do this deed to show how proud I am of this country, and to show my love."

Essay by Marissa Hanson

"I was 8 years old, in third grade, and it was summertime. My parents had been planning this for a while now - every night at supper, they would tell us some interesting things about Washington, D.C. When the day finally came to go, we went to a train station and got on a train. We spent a day and a half on this boring train.

"When we arrived, we got off, walked a little ways, came to a bus stop and got on a small white bus. That brought us to our hotel. The next day, we went to the memorials, Arlington National Cemetery, and then the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. I didn't really understand it... I mean, I was only 8 years old, it was hot, and I was hungry. But then, later, I learned my grandma's brothers had fought in World War II.

"I thought to myself that my great uncles could possibly have talked to the Unknown Soldier, and if he wrote to his family or they wrote to him, he could have shared his letter with my great uncles. I wonder if I might know his wife, children or grandchildren.

"When a family member dies in a war or in the line of duty, we honor them for what they gave and gave up for us. We should do the same for the Unknown, too, even if we don't know who they are. They gave up their family and friends for us, and I want to give a little something back to them. To every soldier who has fought and died for me and our ancestors, I honor you!"

Essay by Timothy Hawkins

Freedom Isn't Free

"We take a lot of things for granted, but our freedom doesn't come free. Our troops fight for our freedom. There are so many who go to fight for us, and many of them don't come back. It is our duty as American citizens to honor the troops that have fallen in battle and those who are still with us.

"My grandpa was in the army but lucky enough not to be in any wars. My other grandpa had medical issues and was not able to serve in the military. I also had a stepgrandpa who was in the air force doing airplane repairs. He made the military his career and was in World War II, Korean War and Vietnam Conflict.

"My mom's cousin was in the Gulf War. He and his group made it back home but later all died from a chemical they came in contact with that affected their nervous systems.

"Something all my relatives have in common is their pride in this country. They never took freedom for granted. I am proud of my dad the most. He enlisted in the army and was a communications repair specialist in the Vietnam Conflict. He was on the first convoy that made it through a certain area and back again; many others never made it.

"He remembers taking off in an airplane while an ambulance was backing up to the plane to get an injured soldier. The landing, transfer of the soldier to the ambulance, and take off all took a total of 45 seconds. An hour later that runway was blown in 2,000-ft. sections. I can't imagine the horror he felt during his time in Vietnam.

"In elementary school I had to write something about Veterans Day. I wrote 'we should honor veterans because they served our country by risking their lives.' A veteran is someone who served in the army or is still serving. They really do mean a lot to this country. When I grow up I want to be a veteran.' I don't know if I will serve in the military, but I do know that I will always honor veterans. My dad must be proud of what I wrote because he still has this paper on the headboard of his bed.

"I want to go to Washington D.C. and experience the memorials this country has for those who have given up so much for me. I especially want to see the Vietnam Wall to honor my dad. I hope some day he can see it too.

"Laying the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. This is the most respectful thing a person can do for those who have given so much for us. I also think that all veterans should see their war memorials because they risked their lives for our country. It is one way we can pay them back for their sacrifice. I feel that once they get out of the service, they should get a free pass to Washington, D.C. I think they have earned this right.

"I like to run. When I run I see open fields, feel the cool air on my face, and smell the fresh hay. I love to hear the open air blowing against me with the sound of tractors in the distance. Because of what my ancestors and so many others did, I have the freedom to experience these things every day. No, freedom is not free. It is earned by many and given to all."