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Valentines for veterans

South Sound students say thanks to those who served

U.S. Army veteran Robert Phillips, right, and surviving spouses (from left) Ann Pendleton, Virginia Dahl and Haruko Heaton, read their special Valentine from school students in the South Sound. Photo credit: Andrew Fickes

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For the fifth consecutive year, Congressman Denny Heck, a House Democrat representing Washington state's 10th Congressional District, is empowering school students to show their thanks to military veterans through the Valentines for Veterans program.

Students in grades K-12 across 15 schools in the South Puget Sound, including Clover Park School District students at Beachwood, Evergreen, Hillside and Meriwether elementary schools on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, designed unique Valentine greeting cards.

"Valentines for Veterans is popular district-wide, but the young participants who attend schools on base add a particularly personal touch," Heck said. "The vast majority of these students come from military families, so they know firsthand the sacrifices made by those who have served. Veterans are the heart of our nation and certainly are the heart of the 10th Congressional District. We do our small part to show our gratitude through these Valentines."

Debbie LeBeau, superintendent of the Clover Park School District, said students were humbled to participate in giving thanks to veterans.

"Clover Park School District is honored to partner with Congressman Denny Heck in honoring our veterans each February through the Valentines for Veterans program," LeBeau said. "From kindergarteners to high school seniors, our students enjoy showing our veterans that they are appreciated by sending heartfelt messages in handmade Valentines."

Roel Van Der Lugt, a military and veterans outreach officer for Heck, said the number of student participants grows each year, and the total volume of cards created also grows.

On Feb. 9, Van Der Lugt said Heck's office was inundated with well more than 5,000 cards. He said Valentine cards will pour in from area schools until the day before Valentine's Day. Van Der Lugt will deliver cards through Valentine's Day to places in the South Sound where veterans congregate, including Camp Murray, JBLM, restaurants in Lakewood, and American Legions.

Van Der Lugt also spends a considerable amount of time delivering to the American Lake VA Hospital. At American Lake, he and a colleague spent two hours in one visit, meeting with upwards of 100 veterans at the Women's Clinic, the new community living center, and the domiciliary.

"It's amazing what these handmade cards will do," Van Der Lugt said. "At the lobby at American Lake, we gave a Valentine to those waiting to see the doctor. They read the message and they get this big smile on their face. They ask us to tell students hello and thanks. It's a big mood changer."

Another delivery is to Patriots Landing in DuPont, home to veterans and surviving spouses. Residents were all smiles when they received their special Valentines.

Dutch Burket, a U.S. Army veteran of World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, was tickled to receive a card.

"I'm impressed with a kid doing that," Burket said. "That's remarkable."

Karen Getchell, the community liaison at Patriots Landing, said this program brings some light to veterans.

"It's a beautiful thing," she said. "To see kids appreciate their service - it warms your heart."

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