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Sandy teen speaks to hearts

Patriotic essay captures eyes and hearts of judges at the district and state levels


by: JIM HART - Hailey Richards, an eighth-grade student at Boring Middle School, is pictured putting pen to paper again as she did when she wrote an essay for the local VFW post's contest. Although Hailey's essay didn't win in the local contest, it was judged the best in Oregon in the recent statewide competition.

Hailey Richards of Sandy, an eighth-grade student at Boring Middle School, has so much respect for her grandfather that she wanted to honor his service in the Vietnam War.

When her history teacher, Bob Farris, told the class the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Sandy (VFW Post 4273) was offering a “Patriot’s Pen” essay contest, Hailey jumped at the chance.

Hailey’s first fictional writing took her all the way to state-level competition, where her writing was judged best in the state of Oregon.

The question to be answered this year in the annual VFW competition was: What would I tell America’s founding fathers?

Hailey chose to write from the perspective of a current imaginary patriot (serving in Iraq), who speaks to Thomas Jefferson, John Hancock, Benjamin Franklin and Samuel Chase while dreaming.

The essay was all conversation between the soldier and the founding fathers. Here’s a sample from the middle of the 300-400-word story:

“… We have gained enormous amounts of respect from other countries,” the soldier told the patriots of yesteryear. “Many of (the countries) are even patterned after us.”

“Intriguing,” said Benjamin Franklin.

“You should also know that Great Britain is our ally,” the soldier said.

“What!” shouted John Hancock. “But we fought to get rid of them.”

“We healed the scars to make new skin and help (both) countries prosper,” the soldier said.

“It’s amazing,” the soldier continued, “your words have inspired millions of people to fight for their own freedom.…”

“How flattering,” said Thomas Jefferson.

Summarizing her essay, Hailey said the soldier awakened from the dream and gained a renewed sense of purpose in his daily trials.

Hailey’s mother, Tonya, told her daughter to write the story as it comes from her heart, not with the thought of winning the contest.

Her work was judged in eighth-place in the local contest. But Hailey is not easily discouraged. Her father commented that Hailey has to “work twice as hard” because of her dyslexia. But her mother said a tutor has helped her overcome some effects of that condition.

At the district level, new judges’ eyes looked at her work and believed she had done as her mother asked — spoken from her heart. Her story was judged the best, earning her $200 and an entry in the state contest.

The prestigious judges who served in the statewide competition also could feel Hailey’s heart-spoken message about serving one’s country.

She came home from the state contest after being treated to a weekend at the Oregon Coast and given a colorful VFW trophy and a $1,200 prize.

Next is national competition, where her writing is compared with 47 other entries — one each from the contiguous 48 states — all competing for the one $10,000 prize. But most of the national competitors will win about $1,000.

Hailey finally decided how she could make her grandfather proud. For that, all she had to do was show him the words that came from her heart.

A handwritten copy of Hailey’s essay became a gift for her grandfather at Christmastime along with the first-place certificate she won in district competition (but not the $200).

“He loved (the essay),” Hailey said.

The budding writer admits this work didn’t stop when she had written the final word in the essay. The writing brought questions to her mind and placed concerns on her heart.

“(The essay) reminds me of the trauma people have in war,” she said. “It also brings up a lot of questions about what happened to the founding fathers after the War of Independence.”

Next year, when she is in high school, she probably won’t think twice when it’s time to enter the VFW’s “Voice of Democracy” contest.

She’s already motivated, thanks to her grandfather.