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New Richmond native Gordon Mommsen reads one of the many letters he received from New Richmond Middle School students during mail call on an Honor Flight he took on April 26. (Submitted photo)

NRMS students send letters to veterans

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Every year, hundreds of veterans get the chance to travel to Washington D.C. to see their respective war memorials as part of the Honor Flight Tours that started in May 2005. This year, New Richmond native Gordon Mommsen and resident Harry Olenburg, who both served in World War II, flew out of the Twins Cities on Saturday, April 26.

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While the veterans are flying to the nation’s capital, mail call is announced and letters written by students, friends, family and other community members are handed to the veterans for them to open and read. Mommsen and Olenburg received letters from students at New Richmond Middle School and St. Croix Central Middle School respectively.

“During the flight to Washington, D.C., mail call was announced, the letters were then given to the veteran by their guardian,” said Mommsen’s guardian Sheila Hill. “I personally think it is good for our youth to think about how different it was for these servicemen and women. A letter was the only form of communication with family and friends. There was no email, Skype, text messages, phone calls, etc. They were half way around the world from their families.”

According to New Richmond Middle School U.S. history teacher Gabe Henk, many of the students who were offered the opportunity to write letters to Mommsen jumped at the chance to offer their thanks to a veteran who once lived in their community.

“We just threw the idea out there to the kids for them to write these letters and a fair number grabbed a hold of it and ran,” Henk said. “I’m very proud of the number of kids who decided to write letters. I expected maybe 10 or so kids to write letters from each class, but we sent a whole batch of them to the veterans. A lot of the kids were very appreciative of him being a veteran, and they all seemed to recognize that this is a special day for the veterans since they will get to see a monument meant for them and for the ones around them that didn’t make it.”

Many of the students wrote their thanks to Mommsen for his service during the war and what he did to give them the freedoms they enjoy today. Hill said that she was very surprised by the sincerity of the letters the students wrote to Mommsen.

“We were told to write whatever we thought,” said James Dalton. “It felt good to write these letters because we got to thank him for what he has done for our country. And I think for him it will feel really good to know that people are thinking about him.”

Other students wrote about how much they appreciated the sacrifices Mommsen and his fellow soldiers made during the war and thanked them for all the things they can now enjoy because of what he did.

“I said thank you for your service in the war and told him that because of him we all live in a better place,” said Keith Grove. “I think that getting to see the memorial will be really emotional for any veteran because of all the memories it brings back. It is an honor to write to someone who used to live in our community.”

For Lila Coleman, she wanted to give back to Mommsen for all that he did for her and the rest of the country.

“It is a way for us to return the favor as they served for us, so we are doing something for them,” Coleman said.

Middle school student James Nysse said that he mentioned his grandfather, who was also in the war, in his letter and the fact that he never got to see the memorial. He was happy to know that another veteran like Mommsen got the chance to see it and thought that he must have been really excited to be there and talk with his fellow veterans.

“I’m sure he was probably really excited to see it and make the trip,” Nysse said. “A lot of people didn’t get to make the flight or see it. … So it is probably a big honor for him. I think it is cool that they do the mail call thing because that is the only time they got mail during the war and this is kind of the same thing.”

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Jordan Willi
Jordan Willi is a reporter for the New Richmond News. Previously, he worked as a sports reporter at the Worthington Daily Globe in Worthington, Minnesota. He also interned at the Hudson Star Observer for two summers and contributed to the Bison Illustrated sports magazine at North Dakota State University.
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