This was my entry to an essay contest prior to my class trip to Washington D.C. The winner would get to lay the wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. I don’t remember how many people entered, I just know that I was floored (but pretending not to be, because, come on. I was 14 and winning contests like this wasn’t cool) when the teacher began to read my letter in front of the entire junior high auditorium. I wouldn’t have even entered but my English teacher encouraged me to do so. In reality, in that moment, I was so glad that she did.
As for finding words regarding what I felt on that humid, sunny day in June, walking that aisle with a friend whose essay had also been chosen… well. I don’t think that I can, despite being a writer. But I wanted to share this letter with members here. The climate we live in now is different than what it was in the 90’s, but I’d like to have hope that there are young people out there who would still feel this same way. I want you to know that there are people out here who, despite never having seen a war or served, have nothing but respect for those who have.
While the writer in me wants desperately to rewrite this whole letter/essay, I have only made a few grammatical changes. 8th grade me didn’t have anyone proofread her work, but apparently the voting staff didn’t mind the errors!
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Dear Unknown Soldier,
You may not know me or anyone who is here today, but many people know you, name or no name. To willingly give your life to a cause with your identity being unknown to the masses takes a level of courage and dignity most of us don’t understand. This magnified the day you died for America.
To lay the wreath on your tomb should be done with the same level of respect, and I would be honored to be the one to do so. Although my scope on war and the military is limited, I can feel the pain of those who fought, and their aftermath. You could be a relative of mine; because of that unknown fact, the second the wreath touches the ground in front of your tomb, I will have felt a level of pride and love I’ve never felt before. At the same time, I’d feel loneliness and emptiness. There is so little that I can do, there are only so many words I can say. Thoughts, actions, or words are enough. The patriotism and loyalty a person of my age would feel in those five minutes would stay with me for the rest of my life.
My reasons for laying the wreath may not seem like much, but to me they are significant — just as you are, and what you have done. To think that you will be looking down with a smile that day is well worth such a small piece of my time.
Although your identity is unknown to America, your courage and bravery will never be forgotten.
Heather Griffin, Mona Shores Middle School (MSMS), 8th grade, 1991-1992