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Neighbor to Neighbor: Two Queens girls win VFW’s essay contest on ‘America’s Future’

It is true that young people today are faced with problems my generation never had. That is not to say there weren’t any problems - they were just different.

Ours were the kinds of difficulties we could relate to later, when television was invented — “Father Knows Best” kinds of things. We shared our crises with our parents and then listened to, and took their advice — at least 99 percent of it.

Those who came along much after us seemed to feel that sort of thing was out of fashion. Youth (some totally on their own), sometimes gave their entire generations a bad name. It was sad to see. It was even sadder to know that there were many trying to throw out a helpline, only to have any offered assistance immediately rejected.

Persistence, however, seems to be paying off'. On Saturday, March 16, some 20 people gathered at the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. Colonel Edward 0. Gourdin Post No. 5298 in Springfield Gardens. The occasion was a special one indeed. We gathered as family and friends, in thankful prayer, that these wonderful veterans and members of the Ladies Auxiliary had not only done a great deal for this country of ours, but are still doing so and encouraging young people to appreciate the opportunities being offered to them as well.

Commander T. J. Tharpe was our host and master of ceremonies. He spoke to us about the importance of patriotism, of the sacrifices made by many to protect our country and to give others a positive outlook for the future. The post participates in a long list of programs beneficial to people of all ages, one of which is the Voice of Democracy Program.

A recent contest for youth asked participants to write a speech on the subject, “America’s Future.” A very unusual thing happened. Commander Tharpe told us there was a tie for first place and since he discovered that Proctor Hopson Post had none, the two posts decided to share the winners so that both contestants Rebecca Mader and Toni Ochoa could progress to the next level for further judging, and potential further gain.

In the meantime, though, these two young ladies really cleaned up. They not only shared the sumptuous meal presented to all of us by V.F.W. Post 5298 to honor them. Each was presented with a $100 U.S. Savings Bond, a Certificate of Award, an invitation to participate in the R.O.T.C., a large trophy, a Voice Of Democracy hat, a Voice of Democracy back-pack to match the hat, a V.F.W. pin, and their own American Flag for their desks.

Each of the young women had entered the contest reluctantly - never thinking she had a possibility of winning. Both “Becca” (which is short for Rebecca), and Toni were wise enough to accept parental advice to “give it a try.” Their beautiful smiles and gracious acceptance speeches left no one there any doubt that they were both very grateful that they did.

Commander Tharpe and the other V.F.W. representatives from various levels in that organization who spoke told us there would be many more opportunities for young folks to participate and possibly win a great deal in the future. They are hoping for much wider participation and we will surely try to pass along any such information to our readers. They would also like to make presentations to our various schools, as representatives of living history of our country. I think that would be a wonderful opportunity for all concerned.

Patriotism was inspired after Sept. 11, as we all know. The year before it was difficult to find an American flag to buy, then suddenly they seemed to be everywhere. Now six months later, some have ripped, become very soiled or faded and some have just disappeared. We hope they'll be replaced.

It is important to know the rules about flag display and care. V.F.W. representatives could certainly teach students in school that very important lesson. Each year during Memorial Day ceremonies, it hurts me to see children dragging the flag on the ground. What is worse, most adults ignore them doing that.

These Veterans of Foreign Wars want to help make “America’s Future” as bright as possible. They ask that you deliver your damaged flags to them at V.F.W. Post 5298, 143-17 Springfield Blvd., Springfield Gardens, N.Y. 11413-3241 for burning in an appropriate ceremonial manner by them. Please do not burn it yourself or discard it in the trash.

They also invite everyone, especially the young, to join them in some of their future activities. We are proud of Becca and Toni and look forward to congratulating them and others in months and years to come.

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