Prizes for the Patriot's Pen essay contest sponsored by the Ladies Auxiliary to the R.W. Fritzinger Post 7215 Veterans of Foreign Wars were presented on March 22 at the Walnutport post home.

Karen Bandzi welcomed guests and parents of the students receiving the awards. Of the 137 entries, the top 10 received a citation, a Kmart gift card and Patriot's Pen backpacks.

Each winner was asked to stand and announce who had accompanied them. In most cases, there were not only parents but grandparents as well.

The theme for the essays was "What Patriotism Means to Me."

Luke Cantrel, who placed first, said the best reason to be patriotic is the freedom in this country.

"We can easily repay this land with a little patriotism," he wrote. "The true patriots are the people who put their country before themselves. When there is an event that symbolizes our country, don't just stay home. Get out and be part of it."

Luke is the son of Mike and Susan Cantrel.

Rachel Hartzell placed second in the contest. She also placed second at the district level.

"What is patriotism?" she wrote. "Is it fighting for America? Is it being related to a veteran? Is it knowing about the American flag? It's what you make of it. Patriotism is the will to fight for your country or die trying. Patriotism is putting your country's needs before your own."

Rachel says her father, who was in the Marines, is her hero. Her parents are Ed and Kim Hartzell.

Third-place winner Magen Perelli, the daughter of Joseph and Kathy Perelli, wrote, "What does patriotism mean to me? Patriotism means never forgetting those who died for our freedoms. That beautiful American flag it brings tears to my eyes."

Jack Kennedy, who placed first in district competition and fourth locally, said "Everyone has a different interpretation of what patriotism is, but I believe it is believing in freedom, knowing and understanding our history and having the will, without second thought, to stand up for the greatest country in the world, the United States of America."

Jack's parents are John and Wendy Kennedy.

Fifth-place Mikayla Davidson placed fourth in districts. "Patriotism is a word with many meanings a word that is defined differently for each of us," she wrote. "It is not outbursts of emotion but a tranquil and steady dedication to your country."

Mikayla is the daughter of Harley and Michele Davidson.

Jenna Rogers placed sixth. She said, "My grandmother is my inspiration to be patriotic. She always gives back to others, and saves herself for last."

Jenna's parents are Spencer and Denise Rogers.

Andrew Kovalchick was the seventh-place winner. When he looks at military men, he wrote they "inspire me to be the best I can, not just in school but in life."

His parents are Joseph and Terry Kovalchick.

Michael Kistler took eighth place. He said, "I believe that patriotism depends on how you feel and love your country. Examples are the early settlers who worked for our country, the things we did after 9/11 and the United States flag."

His parents are Michael and Natalie Kistler.

Ninth-place winner Madison Lebish wrote, "Anyone can learn about history but not everybody can understand what our ancestors have done for us. We all see America and its history and our world in a different way. Flying our flag can show."

Her parents are Michael and Kelly Lebish.

John Fox placed 10th. His parents are Curtis and Sherriann Fox. John said to him "Democracy is how Americans come together through Christ, also, who we hold up as our heroes and how we benefit from our freedom."

This was the 10th year for Patriot's Pen and the first year for the Voice of Democracy contest, which is for high school students.

Ryan Hartzell, whose parents are Jason and Wendy, said he has come to believe he can be part of the future because his generation is the future.

Jennifer Howell said she is confident all things must end, even the bad. She said smaller government is not a new idea. She believes the U.S. Constitution is the most important document in our history. Her parents are Randy and Joyce Howell.

Hartzell and Howell, who participated in the Voice of Democracy contest, received $50 each from the auxiliary and $50 from the VFW.

Russell Canevari, state commander, said the students were able to say what they wanted because veterans gave them the right.

John Getz, state adjutant quartermaster, said it was great listening to the essays.

Rod Byrd, District 20 commander, said the students face a great future and may even be president one day.