March 7, 1990|By STEVE NICHOL, Staff Writer
For Bridgette Ludden, it was an opportunity to discover that a great-, great-, great-, great-grandfather was one of President Abraham Lincoln`s bodyguards. And that he fought at Gettysburg, too.
Meghan Toshner, meanwhile, learned in greater detail how grandfather Myron Toshner survived World War II despite being blown 70 feet from the top of a tank he was riding in the Allied invasion of Italy in 1943.
For detailing those family exploits, both elementary school students will have the honor on Sunday of laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery before 1,230 fellow Palm Beach County safety patrol members.
``I`m going to have my teacher take pictures of me when I`m laying the wreath. I can`t believe I`m getting to do it,`` said Meghan, a sixth-grade student at Palm Beach Gardens Elementary.
All the students heading for Washington, D.C., on Thursday aboard Amtrak -- and a second group leaving the next Thursday -- were given an option of writing an essay to win the wreath-laying honor.
The students could write about medals won in battle by relatives, about family members buried at Arlington National Cemetery, or relatives who died serving the country.
Students were also allowed to write about any awards they may have received for heroism or valor or simply to write about outstanding service they provided as fifth- or sixth-grade safety patrol students.
While only a dozen students decided to write an essay, the half-dozen safety patrol directors who judged them had a tough time selecting winners.
``They were all well-written,`` said Cliff Taylor, principal of Kirklane Elementary near West Palm Beach.
In the end, fifth-grader Bridgette Ludden, of Forest Hill Elementary in the West Palm Beach area, and Meghan Toshner were selected from the first group because of their tales of war.
Marissa Castle of Verde Elementary near Boca Raton and Keith Hobbs of Highland Elementary in Lake Worth wrote the best essays for the second group, according to safety patrol officials. They also will participate in a wreath- laying ceremony.
Bridgette said the essay exercise was an opportunity in genealogy.
``I just like finding out stuff about our family because they go way back,`` she said. Bridgette`s roots go to Robert Morris of Pennsylvania, the first signer of the Declaration of Independence, said her mother, Karen Leja.
This time, with the help of Bridgette`s maternal grandmother and a New York Times obituary, she learned of grandpa Charles Phillips and his life as a presidential bodyguard and Civil War soldier.
She also learned and wrote about how two uncles on her father`s side won medals serving in Vietnam.
Meghan`s father told her how grandfather Toshner was lucky to survive a battle at Anzio.
``While he was sitting on top of a tank, firing a .50-caliber machine gun, a German bomb exploded and blew him off the tank 70 feet away,`` she wrote.
``His friends thought that surely he had to be dead for he just laid there silently, not moving an inch. But he was not dead. He had just been knocked unconscious,`` she wrote.
Meghan wrote how her grandfather returned to the United States for treatment of his injuries and that he received the Purple Heart.
``It was a terrifying experience for all of the men that were in the war. I can imagine why. Not knowing if you will live to see tomorrow,`` she wrote.
``To this day, my grandfather does not like to talk about the hardships in the war, and I don`t blame him,`` she concluded.
Wreath bearers: front, from left, Bryan Zhong, Ariana Abo, Emily Lowrie; back row, from left, Ms. Jan Reck, Timothy Coupland, Joey Halabrin and Elizabeth Velasquez
In early April, about 90 students will be on their way to Washington, D.C. from Ramona Middle School in La Verne, including four students who have been invited to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. Eighth grade students Ariana Abo, Joey Halbrin, Elizabeth Velasquez and Bryan Zhong, along with alternates Emily Lowrie and Timothy Coupland, were selected for this high honor based on the winning essays they wrote, addressing why participating in this ceremony was important “to you, to all of us as Americans, and to our Country.”
Here are their essays:
Why I Want to Participate in the Wreath Laying Ceremony
By Ariana Abo
He died before I got to know him. He was a husband, father, uncle, and my grandfather. His name was Franklin Donald Renkvish.
In 1963, when my grandfather was only nineteen-years-old, he was drafted into the United States Army. He was sent to boot camp in Fort Ord, California where he spent six weeks training to become a soldier. Then, he went on to complete military police training in Augusta, Georgia. After graduating and finalizing his training at the “Advance Independent Military Training” as an SPC4, he was assigned to Fort Meyers, Virginia. There, along with his other duties, he had the honor of standing guard at President Kennedy’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery.
Since I never had the chance to get to know my grandfather (he died when I was only six months old), my mother and grandmother have told me many interesting and exciting things about him. Like how my grandfather married my grandmother during his time of service. Since he was stationed in Virginia, they married in California and drove back to Virginia to live for another 2 years.
Telling my grandmother the news about me traveling to Washington D.C. and Arlington, VA, she was thrilled. Knowing that my grandfather felt so honored to guard President Kennedy’s grave, I felt that participating in the wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns would not only be honoring those buried there, but in some way it would be honoring the memory of grandpa.
Arlington National Cemetery
By Joey Halabrin
Arlington National Cemetery is so much more than a cemetery, it is a dedication to all those who lost their lives for this country. It is also home to Brothers Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Senator Robert F. Kennedy, President John F. Kennedy, and President William Howard Taft. Even more important than the Presidents and dignitaries, 300,000 veterans are buried there, ever since the Civil War. All the different veterans have their own story to tell, it may have been fighting in the Battle of Gettysburg, storming the beach at Normandy, or fighting in Afghanistan today. All the people in the cemetery have one thing in common. They have all proudly served our country, everybody from President John F. Kennedy to soldier Raymond S. Smith.
In the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier there lies 4 soldiers not identified from World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Even though it rests 4 soldiers, it represents all the men and women who have died in the service for our country but have not been identified ever since 1775. It would mean so much to me to have the honor of laying the wreath because I deeply appreciate the freedoms the soldiers have died for as well as that they have sacrificed everything for the welfare for the people of the United States of America. It would also be an honor because the friends and family that have had to go through their loss of a great person. People must remember that even though at first sight all the tombstones look the same, they all have their own unique story.
Arlington National Cemetery Wreath Laying Application
By Elizabeth Velasquez
On January 3, 1942, a telegram came to my great-grandmother stating that my great-grandfather was “missing in action, presumed dead.” My great-grandfather, C.B. Jennings, served with the allied forces in World War II. He had been severely injured when he was shot in the leg and was moved off of the front line to receive medical treatment. In all of the chaos and confusion of the war, and the lack of technology, his military unit lost track of where he was. My great-grandmother received this awful news while in the hospital, only a few hours after she had given birth to their first child, my grandfather. Thankfully, this information was proven incorrect when my great-grandfather was found receiving medical attention. It is possible, that if my great-grandfather had not survived his injuries and had died on the battlefield, that he would have been “missing, presumed dead” forever.
In 2001, I had the privilege of visiting Arlington National Cemetery with my family. Even though I was only five I was very impressed by the way the military put so much emphasis on the daily honoring of “The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.” The tomb is a place for families to pay their respects to their loved ones who have died fighting for our country. Before DNA testing, there were many soldiers who were unidentifiable because of the disfiguring of their bodies from the battle. Thankfully, through modern technology and testing, we have been able to successfully identify the bodies of the fallen soldiers.
Arlington National Cemetery is important to us as Americans because it is a place where we can honor those who have fallen fighting for our freedom. I would be honored to represent Ramona Middle School to honor the heroes who have paid the ultimate price for my freedom.
By Bryan Zhong
Where lost heroes lay. Where brave Americans fought in war and died in the act of serving our nation are buried. Arlington Cemetery is the highest honor where fallen comrades may be laid to rest.
Arlington House was originally intended to be a memorial for George Washington, but was established by Brig. Gen. Montgomery C. Meigs, who bought the property and established it into a national cemetery. It was an honor to be buried here, and it still is today.
All the fellow comrades here are deeply respected and comrade-in-arm guards guard it day and night, be it blizzards or droughts, floods or mudslides, hurricanes or earthquakes. It is one of the most sacred memorials in the world and where unidentified soldiers are laid to rest. All who are buried here should be given the highest respect and honor. All of the identified dead soldiers all have a place to call home, but to those who are unidentified; they have no place to call home yet besides their country. Their families don’t know where they could be or if they’re still alive or not. That’s why these are the bravest soldiers to serve their nation; who give it their all, and lose everything in the process. This earns my respect very deeply and touches my heart to the core. I couldn’t bear to lose everything! It would be a huge honor to even be in the Arlington Cemetery, let alone attend the wreath laying for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. I believe that whoever should be chosen should not take the sacred honor for granted, that they should feel highly honored to be able to participate in it. That is why I want to be one of those people chosen.
To learn more about the students’ upcoming Washington trip, click on the link below: