- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 2, 2006

2:25 p.m.

To Laizia Alam, U.S. troops and veterans are her heroes.

“They sacrifice all kind of things,” said Laizia, 14, who emigrated from Bangladesh to the United States last year. “Some people die.”

Laizia is among 21 students who are in the two beginning levels of English as a Second Language at Minnie Howard School and will be taking part today in the school’s fifth annual Veterans’ Tribute at the Rocky Versace Plaza and Vietnam Veterans Memorial at the Mount Vernon Recreation Center in Alexandria.

For the past three weeks, the students have been learning about “humanitarian heroes” to prepare for today’s tribute.

“My students have been very eager to learn about the experience of our nation’s veterans and are very excited to be a part of this patriotic tribute,” said Elissa Webster, the students’ teacher and a member of the national chapter of the POW/MIA advocacy group Rolling Thunder. “I’m proud of them, and I want them to be proud of being new Americans.”

Each student is expected to speak at the event, whether leading the Pledge of Allegiance, reciting in English a section of the speech they brainstormed together or presenting wreaths they helped create from paper flowers.

Ingrid Amaya Giron, a 15-year-old from El Salvador, practiced for a week on her part of the ceremony: leading the Pledge of Allegiance.

“Soldiers have hard work, and they risk their lives for us, so I want to thank them,” she said.

Joshua Rodriguez Lostaunau, 14, who came to the U.S. eight months ago from Peru, will read part of the students’ Veterans Day speech.

“The soldiers here are very proud,” he said. “In my country, they don’t love the country. The veteran is very good and patriotic. They respect the flag and respect the country.”

Ms. Webster used children’s books to teach some of her lessons about troops.

“I try to keep a very nonpolitical focus on Vietnam and Iraq,” she said. “I stress that the students should see forces as peacekeepers and a safeguard to democracy.”

The students recently learned about the life of Capt. Humbert Roque “Rocky” Versace, a U.S. Army prisoner of war from Alexandria who posthumously received the Medal of Honor in 2002. Capt. Versace was executed by his Viet Cong captors in 1965.

Ms. Webster’s students wrote thank-you letters to veterans and troops on red, white and blue American flag paper with black POW/MIA pens they will keep as reminders of their participation.

Each student copied his or her letter several times. Ms. Webster rolled the letters into scrolls and tied them securely with yellow ribbon.

In her letter, Laizia said she is proud of the U.S. troops.

“All soldiers are heroes because a hero is someone who helps other people in difficult situations and makes a personal sacrifice. I want to say thank you to all the men and women who were soldiers or veterans,” Laizia wrote.

At the end of today’s ceremony, students will hand-deliver their letters to each of the veterans and troops in attendance. The remaining letters will be distributed to veterans through local veterans organizations such as Rolling Thunder, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Walter Reed Army Medical Center and Disabled American Veterans.

“It’s heartwarming when kids show some appreciation for the military,” said retired Brig. Gen. J.W. Nicholson, who has spoken at previous Minnie Howard Veterans Tributes. “Those freshmen are learning to appreciate the United States and to feel patriotic about their new country.”

After today’s tribute, Ms. Webster will continue teaching her students about veterans and their influence on America. The class will visit museums, go on a private tour of the World War II Memorial with Gen. Nicholson and visit other monuments along the Mall in the spring.

Ms. Webster also hopes to take her classes to Arlington National Cemetery to observe the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

“They get enough out of it that it brings tears to my eyes,” she said. “When we come back around to Memorial Day, they’ve remembered more than I really expected them to.”

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