The Ladies Auxiliary to Post 7215 Veterans of Foreign Wars, Walnutport, presented awards to the first five place winners in the Patriot's Pen essay contest.

A March 10 banquet preceded the presentations.

Auxiliary and District 20 President Karen Bandzi said there were 133 entries. All but one came from Northampton Middle School seventh graders who will be eligible again next year.

The invocation by Sue Bortz included the words, "We are grateful for those who inspire us. … Grant us health, peace and progress."

Bandzi introduced the kids who in turn introduced relatives who had accompanied them. She also asked if any of the relatives were veterans. All winners from sixth place through 100 received certificates of merit at their school.

Citations were awarded to the five winners who went to districts. They also received gift cards ranging from $50 to $125 and Patriot's Pen book bags.

The theme for the essays was "Are You Proud of Your Country?"

Alexis Meixsell's first place essay began with a quotation: "It is the love of country that has lighted and that keeps glowing the holy fire of patriotism." - J. Horace McFarland. She said that thanks to family and soldiers she has heroes, beliefs, the flag, and other things that she is proud of. They make her the person she is today.

"The soldiers risk their lives in battles and war to protect democracy so every American can enjoy liberty, freedom and justice. The greatest symbol we have is the American flag. Meixsell said it is honored at school, sporting events, the landing on the moon, historical events and on Flag Day. Am I proud of my country? Yes, I cherish the country, the flag and my heroes."

Her parents are Greg and Kristine Meixsell.

Second place winner Logan Buskaritz said "Are You Proud of your Country?" is a good question because it makes a person think. His answer was "yes" because he likes the freedom to make his own decisions and enjoys being part of a team when he plays sports.

He appreciates the armed forces and will be happy when they are home and finally safe. The song, "Proud to be an American" has special meaning to him. He said the words make him think how lucky he is to be living the American Dream.

Madison Vetter, third place at the local level fourth in districts, said the military life is not a game. Not everyone gets out alive. Military personnel sacrifice their lives for the USA. They miss loved ones, the birth of a child, birthdays and wedding anniversaries, Christmas and other holidays.

"Have you thought how the families cope?"

"Are you proud of our country for having all these amazing people? I am definitely proud to be an American and to know that my grandfather and father served our country. Are you?"

Fourth place winner Gabrielle Gallo used the letters of America to tell her story of pride. A stands for armed forces. M is for the many cultures that make America diverse. E is for the eagle that is the symbol of our country. R is for religious freedom. I stands for the independence earned in a war against England. Congress represents the letter C. And a second A is for the ancestors that came from all parts of the world. She hopes in the future she can pass on her deep love for America to future generations. Gabrielle was fourth in the District 20 contest.

Fifth place Selena Abdouche, who placed second at the district level, said America is a supportive, free and protective country and there is no place she would rather live. Abdouche said the symbols of freedom are the Statue of Liberty and the bald eagle, and the documents of freedom are the Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. They remind her of our rights, freedom, liberty and justice for all.

"America, you feed us, you house us, you help us seek medical care, protect us from terrorism - I'm proud to be an American."

Larry Reece, a state commander, asked, "Is not our future in great hands?"

He would like to see the winners move on to the Voice of Democracy essay contest for high schoolers. He said Americans proudly get together to celebrate great things. Our greatest responsibility is to help our youth.

Other visitors were Brenda Johnson, department chaplain; Steve Calles, District 20 commander; Frank Mills, internal affairs and past state commander; and John Getz, adjutant quartermaster and past state commander.

Callas said when walking down the street people may see a homeless person and to consider whether he or she may be a veteran. People should offer help to the veterans.

Commander Bruce Jones said they would close with a benediction. Bortz said, "You (God) are the strong tower of our defense."