Three talented middle school students – the top winners of the “2016 Connecticut Veterans Parade Student Essay Contest” – read their poignant pieces on Thursday, October 27 at a public ceremony in the Connecticut State Capitol’s Hall of Flags.

The 2016 First Place winner is Rachel Coppinger (center above) of West Simsbury, an 8th grader at Henry James Memorial School in Simsbury. As the contest’s top winner, Rachel will ride with one guest in a special vehicle in the 17th annual Connecticut Veterans Parade on Sunday, November 6 in Hartford. In recognition of her achievement, she also received an American flag that has flown over the Connecticut State Capitol Building.

The two Runners-Up are Mehr Chhatre (center right) of Hamden, a 7th grader at Hamden Middle School, and Stephanie Hernandez Rodriguez (center left) of Manchester, an 8th grader at Illing Middle School in Manchester

The 10th annual statewide competition encouraged 6th, 7th and 8th graders to learn more about the heroism and importance of American servicemen and women throughout our nation’s history, inviting students to write an essay about “What It Means to Be a Veteran.” More than 540 entries were submitted for this contest that is presented by Navy League of the U.S. - Hartford Council and the State of Connecticut Department of Veterans Affairs. The judging criteria were: power of the message of the essay; clarity of thought; spelling, punctuation and grammar; and overall comprehension of the topic.


First Place Winner – RACHEL COPPINGER
8th grader of West Simsbury

“And I’m proud to be an American where at least I know I’m free.
And I won’t forget the men who died who gave that right to me.”

God Bless the U.S.A., Lee Greenwood

I have been told by my father and grandfather, both veterans, that serving in the military changed their lives. They said that serving in the armed forces made them part of a large family, one that taught them important life lessons in teamwork, pride, integrity, and honor. They said these lessons began in boot camp and were meant to give them the inner strength necessary to survive on the field of battle.

 I am proud of the military service in my family. My father served twenty-two years in the Air National Guard, which included active duty supporting the war in Afghanistan. My grandfather, a Marine, fought courageous battles during the Korean War and fell in love with my grandmother who was also serving her country in the Marine Corps. My other grandfather proudly served in the Army during the Vietnam War.

 My father has always said he was honored to represent the Air Force Core Values which state “Integrity First, Service before Self, and Excellence in All We Do.” He said these words are meant to inspire soldiers to build character, self-discipline, and to put the needs of others before their own needs. My father says these values helped make him a better person and that he still carries these values with him today.

 Veterans are people who took an oath not only to defend our country against enemies both foreign and domestic, but were prepared to die to keep that oath. Many paid the ultimate sacrifice to uphold not only our country’s freedom, but the freedom and democracy of other nations who asked for our help. It is the veteran’s patriotism and selflessness which has allowed not only Americans, but people of all nations to live free.

 With all that veterans have sacrificed for our country it makes me sad that some people in our country refuse to stand or place their hand over their heart when the Pledge of Allegiance is said. Liberty comes at a cost and veterans have given us this liberty with their blood, sweat, and tears. Some veterans who have gone through combat carry burdens that they have buried deep in the private depths of their hearts because they are too painful to share and our national anthem and the American flag represent all that our veterans have sacrificed.

 Veterans have given all of us the greatest gift one human being can give to another… to lay down their life for their fellow man. They are selfless heroes who are all around us. They are our teachers, our neighbors, our policemen, our family members, and strangers we pass on the street. This to me is what it means to be a veteran.

One of Two Runners-Up – Mehr Chhatre
7th grader of Hamden

To be a veteran means to be committed. You’re committed to your country, committed to your mission, and committed to the people. It doesn’t matter what part of the military a veteran served in, or if they had ever been in combat, they were always committed. They have a sense of responsibility that they were held up to, and were striving to keep that sense of responsibility alive. Coast Guard veteran, Mr. Dan Levy said, “service above self”. Veterans were committed to their mission at hand and the people who they were serving with.

Veterans were leaders. They were leaders for our country and for themselves. They are brave individuals who did their best to keep our country out of harm’s way, even if it meant leaving their own family behind. Every job in regular civilian life is in the military. Some were medics, engineers, scientists, and many more. All these veterans worked around the clock and never received leave, unless granted liberty. This shows that these elite groups of people were so committed to what they were doing for their country and for the people in it. Veterans also cared for those affected by battle in war-torn countries. They help out the local population by giving food and more.

 To veterans commitment can mean sacrifice. Veterans had to put their life on the line every day in battle; sacrificing themselves for the country they loved. As the 20th president of the United States and military veteran, James A. Garfield said, “For the love of their country they accepted death.” This shows that veterans would sacrifice themselves, but they also sacrifice beloved family moments while on duty.

 Along with that, veterans sacrificed a normal life after they returned. Some came back with devastating injuries and others with mental challenges, but their love for their country stills burns. Sometimes they lose each other, but the reason they joined the military is still there.

 Veterans are intelligent, brave, and most of all committed. They don’t lose sight of the reason they joined the service. For veterans the mission, country, and each other come first and they are secondary. This is clearly shown by the words of 22-year-old soldier, Joe DaSilva, who said to his troops, “If I had to give my life for any of you, I would do it in a heartbeat.” They are selfless for just this reason. No matter in the Coast Guard, Navy, Army, Air Force, or Marine Corps all veterans are committed. And it doesn’t matter whether they were a scientists or a soldier every veteran that was in the military was committed to their country. To be a veteran doesn’t just mean to go fight in a war or research in a lab, it means to be committed, to be committed to your country, to your mission, and finally to your people. That it was it means to be a veteran.

One of Two Runners-Up – Stephanie Hernandez Rodriguez
8th grader of Manchester

          “What does it mean to be a Veteran?” Many people asked that question, but do they know what it really means to be a veteran. A veteran is someone who has served in the military, but is that it?. Being a veteran is not just serving in the military, being a veteran is so much more. A veteran is someone who was willing to make a sacrifice, someone who is courageous, and someone who is upstanding.

 Being a veteran means willing to make a sacrifice. Many times we don’t realize the sacrifices that veterans make when they accept to serve our country. In fact, the biggest sacrifice of a veteran is not just on the battlefield. They remain unknown, leaving families as the only witnesses to those sacrifices. They happen in the backyard, where a little girl blows out her candles wishing to see her father’s ocean blue eyes. They happen in college, where a boy looks at a empty seat in his graduation hoping that his mother will arrive soon. They happen in the living room, where a mother looks at the picture of her young boy. We aren't aware of the woman standing in front of a grave with her daughter, telling her father the things she accomplished. We aren’t aware that they go to war to fight for us, knowing they might not see the light of day anymore, knowing they might not be there to see their kids grow, knowing that they would leave many family members drowning in a ocean of sorrow. We don’t fully understand the sacrifice that is made.

Being a veteran means being courageous. They went to war knowing the risk they were taking. They trained as hard as they could to fight for our country. They stood in the middle of the battlefield hearing the shrieks of war and were not afraid to keep going. They did everything that was necessary to help our country. No matter the injuries, the scars, and the bruises they kept going. They didn’t care about the risk, they didn’t stop. They believed in freedom, in rights, they believed in peace and still do. Even the little acts of courage that they made should be honored.

Being a veteran is being upstanding. A veteran is someone who should be respected. A veteran should be honored for what they have done for our country. It doesn’t matter is they were part of the Air Force, the Army, the Coast Guard, the Marine Corps, or the Navy. They deserve respect. Veterans are such an inspiration to so many people. They inspire us to be peaceful, to be brave, to have courage, to be human.

Veterans are so many things, a simple essay isn’t enough to explain and appreciate their service.


Download: CTVetsParadeEssayWinnersAnnounced2016PR-Final_n.docx

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Wallingford, CT 06492

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