A special day for students and soldiers

The fifth grade students of Mrs. Jennifer Dykens at the Arthur T. Cummings School got a special lesson in civics last week, when local veteran Richard Honan visited the school along with a friend who served with him in Vietnam, Richard Gay, and Gay’s son, Sergeant Richard Gay, who had recently returned from a tour of duty with the U.S. Army in Iraq. It was the third visit this year for Honan to Mrs. Dyken’s class.

“ Earlier in the year, Mrs. Dykens had asked me to come to her classroom and talk to the students about our men and women fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan,” explained Honan, who has been sending care packages to U.S soldiers with a Winthrop connection for the past five years. “Since that discussion back in October, the students had been collecting goods for care packages for the troops. Two weeks ago, I met with them once again to give them names and addresses of twelve soldiers with Winthrop connections and I told them that the students that write the best letters would appear on my February ‘Supporting the Troops’ program on WCAT and have a chance to read their letters on TV.”

On January 28, Honan returned to the classroom and brought with him a dozen Priority Mail shipping boxes and lots of extra goods to put into the care packages.

“I also brought my fellow veteran Richard Gay, who had served in Vietnam with me over forty years ago and we also brought along his son, Sgt. Richard Gay who had recently returned from serving eighteen months with the US Army in Iraq,” said Honan.

According to Honan young Richard talked to the students about his deployment to Iraq and took questions from the students about what it was like in a war zone. He also talked about Army food, where he slept while he was in Iraq, and how much he enjoyed receiving letters and care packages from back home.

The visit by the three soldiers was more than a chance to enlist the aid of some local students with care packages for troops serving in combat. For Cummings School Principal Brian Gill, the visits by Honan and his work organizing care packages with local students is also about teaching Winthrop’s young students.

“Rich Honan should be applauded for his efforts on behalf of all our servicemen and women,” said Gill. “He brings the lessons of dedication and love of country to our students, and provides a real life, truly educational aspect to the Iraqi war effort. The soldiers speak to our kids not only of their patriotic endeavors, but also give geographic, civic and humanitarian lessons that the students could never learn from a history book. These visits are an invaluable gift to our school community, and we appreciate the time taken by Rich and the brave soldiers who accompany him.”

As part of the visit, Honan and his fellow soldiers helped the students pack care [packages, which Honan then delivered to the post office to be mailed out.

“Before we started packing the boxes I read a couple of letters that I had recently received from two soldiers, one in Iraq and the other in Korea. Then, I gave the students some basic instructions about filling the boxes,” said Honan. “Richard Gay’s son went around and gave the students helpful information about what to put in their care packages. Almost all of the students had also made Valentines to put in the boxes along with their letters. We made sure there was a good mix of comfort food, personal items and treats like cookies and candy. At the end of the day, we totaled up over two hundred pounds of goods that are now on the way to Afghanistan and Iraq.

I know they (the students and the soldiers) got as much out of my visit as I did!”

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