11/29/2012 7:30:00 AM
|(Karla Wotruba/River News)|
Mike Baker and Mackennzie Yoder hold the card that Mackennzie made in honor of Veterans Day as an activity at Old School Arts & Learning Center. Baker, a volunteer meal delivery driver for the Oneida County Senior Center, received the card and wrote Mackennzie a letter thanking her for remembering veterans. The two met Nov. 21 and were able to thank each other in person.
Area veteran acknowledges Veterans Day card with personal letter
Grade schooler and veteran connect to thank each other in person
Rhinelander grade schooler Mackennzie Yoder created a few thank-you cards for Veterans Day, not knowing who would eventually receive them. What began as a considerate gesture for Veterans Day recently became a special meeting for Mackennzie and Mike Baker, an area veteran.
It all began as a project idea at Old School Arts & Learning Center. A volunteer at the center, Melanie Osterman, had the idea to make cards for veterans for Veterans Day, and approached Louise Perreault, Old School owner and operator.
"She said, 'Could we do some patriotic cards for the veterans?'" said Perreault. "I said, 'absolutely,' and we talked about it. She came on one of our 'no school' days,' and spent the entire day with us." Each child made two cards - one that would be distributed, and one to take home for a veteran family member or friend, she said. "That was her project through us, because she knows it's the kind of thing that we really like to do, to remember special days like that."
The cards were brought to the Oneida County Senior Center, where Newbold resident Mike Baker volunteers once a week delivering meals to seniors. Baker served in the Army in 1969-1970, and spent time overseas in Germany. Stephanie Schroeder asked the people eating lunch that day if there were any veterans in the crowd, and then handed out the cards.
"Stephanie asked how many people in the room here at the time were veterans, so I raised my hand, and I got the card made by Mackennzie," he said.
Upon receiving the card, he thought it was significant enough to return the favor.
"I thought it was special. It's always neat to see when kids are encouraged to thank a veteran, and really, Vietnam War veterans didn't get many thanks when they came home, especially those that actually did serve in Vietnam. I did not go to Vietnam, but I served a year in Germany. (A thank you) wasn't a common thing back then."
Baker went home and composed a letter to her, telling her a little of his story.
"When I got home I wrote a letter to her, and I included a picture in it too. That was my graduation picture from basic training," he said.
In the letter, he wrote, "Hello Mackennzie, Thank you for your beautiful Veterans Day card and for remembering all those men and women who have served our wonderful nation in the military. I was in the Army from January 1969-December 1970. This was during the Vietnam War. I did not go to Vietnam, but was stationed in Germany for all of 1970. In March of 1970 our first child was born in Illinois. I was not able to be home when she was born, but later my wife and our baby daughter were able to come to Germany so we could be together as a family for several months. There's a saying 'All sacrificed some and some sacrificed all.' I was not asked to sacrifice all, but many were and this continues today. We must always pray for peace. Thank you again for remembering us veterans."
As Baker wrote in the letter, the time of his service overlapped with the birth of his first child, something he remembered as particularly poignant.
"I arrived in Worms, Germany, two days before Christmas in '69. Here it's two days before Christmas, biggest time of the year for anybody, and it's the furthest I've ever been away from home, being halfway around the world," he said. "I found myself wandering the streets of Worms, Germany, in the dark at night on Christmas Eve."
He was grateful to be reunited with his family shortly after. Even though he missed his daughter's birth, he remembers fondly the time they spent together when she was an infant.
"When they got to come over, that was great. Our daughter was born March 22, and then they were able to come over about two months later," he said."We lived off post, and we had a little baby, so that was fun."
Baker, a member of American Legion Post 318 in Lake Tomahawk, notes that many service members were not able to be reunited with their families as he was. He delivers meals to a WWII veteran, who like Baker, was away from home when his daughter was born. Unlike Baker, the veteran had to wait two years before he could see his daughter.
Perhaps that's part of the reason Baker took the time to thank Mackennzie and share his story with her. Perreault said it was thoughtful of him to return the gesture.
"We never expected any thank-yous in return, we were just doing it for Veterans Day," she said. "It was really pretty special." She said another gentleman called to thank the children at the center for the card.
On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, a time of gratitude, Mackennzie and Baker met face to face for the first time for a personal thank you. Mackennzie was at the Oneida County Senior Center over lunch as part of Intergenerational Lunch Day, where children from the Old School program serve lunch and entertain seniors at the center. Perreault said Mackennzie, who had the service picture of Baker, was happy he would meet her personally.
"I told Mackennzie you'd have the chance maybe to meet today," she told Baker. She said Mackennzie responded, "Good, then he'll get to know what I look like, too."
Baker asked Mackennzie how old she was (she's 10 and 3/4,) and pointed out they both wear glasses. He told her he looks a lot different now than his picture.
"You can tell your mom that the guy's a lot older than his picture, OK? I don't look anything like that, do I?" he said.
He also told Mackennzie, whose mom is an Air Force veteran, that showing gratitude to members of the military is appreciated.
"We are thanking veterans in many ways, so that's good, that youngsters like you, Mackennzie, are sending out thank you cards to veterans," he said.
Perreault said that children aren't often thanked for their efforts, so they also appreciate when someone takes the time to acknowledge them.
"They don't always get the thanks in return either, so yours was the first one that came. We did have another phone call that came from another gentleman thanking us, but that was really special," she said.
Mackennzie told Baker she was excited to receive his letter.
"I thought it was amazing," she said. "If I give someone a thank you, they will give me a thank you back."
Baker told her, "Those may be the two most important words in our language, do you know that? And you know what the other thing is? A smile, and you have a smile, too. A smile and a thank you," he said.
Both Mackennzie and Baker appreciated the opportunity to meet and make a personal connection that started with gratitude- a circle of gratitude for a child's card thanking a military man for his sacrifice, and for the recipient to tell her how much he appreciated receiving it.
"Well, Mackennzie was nice enough to do this, so I thought I would put together a little letter, and the picture was kind of an afterthought, just to give you a little bit of an idea of who you gave that to," he said. "Sometimes we send a thank-you card, and we never really know who gets it. So that was a very nice card, Mackennzie, thank you very much again."
To which Mackennzie replied, "You're welcome."
Karla Wotruba may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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