ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The first letter Xavier Nieto ever wrote was to an anonymous veteran, thanking him or her for their service to the country.
“Dear Soldier,” Xavier wrote, “Thank you for saving lives and my life. I hope you’re safe. Thank you for saving the USA. Thank you thank you thank you.”
Painstakingly written on primary-ruled paper, Nieto wrote the letter last year as a first-grader, along with the rest of his class at Apache Elementary School in northeast Albuquerque.
The letters were destined for the 24 New Mexican men and women on the 2017 Honor Flight earlier this year, which takes veterans on an all expenses paid trip to Washington, D.C.
The hundreds of letters received from students all across the country are distributed randomly to each veteran and delivered to them on the flight home.
As Korean War veteran Lloyd Seagraves of Albuquerque opened his letters, Xavier’s stood out to him.
Seagraves reached out to Honor Flight of Northern New Mexico and asked if he could meet the young boy, the first time the group has fielded such a request.
On Friday afternoon at Apache Elementary School, Seagraves was able to thank Xavier, now in second grade, in person.
“I had been wondering if schoolchildren were learning about World War II, about the Korean War, about the wars that American men, some of your uncles and grandfathers fought in. Would you appreciate the veterans?” Seagraves said, addressing Xavier and a group of Apache first- and second-graders. “What I found out was, yes!”
Seagraves, 83, presented Xavier with a copy of the letter, a photo of himself, a flag that had flown at the state Capitol and had been given to him through Honor Flight, and a hug.
“I think it’s really, really cool to get a flag,” Xavier said afterward.
After meeting Xavier, Seagraves answered childrens’ questions about his military service and the Honor Flight trip.
Seagraves served for nearly four years in the Army in Japan during the war as a computer operator.
“When I was running a computer, it took about 35 people and 14 pieces of equipment as big as pianos just to do what your laptop or desktop will do today,” he said, as the kids gasped in disbelief.
Seagraves said he’s been disheartened by seeing young people, especially high school and college students, who seem ignorant of the sacrifices veterans made for the country.
“I wonder how they got there. Are our kids being taught any better?” he said. “I’m pleased to say that I was encouraged that they are, because literally hundreds and hundreds of kids chased us down (in Washington) to say, ‘Thank you.’ ”
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