Operation Gratitude: Letters From RP Students To Those Serving

Earlier this month an idea took shape that, with cooperation, became a realty. It involved some letters, postage, and a ‘thank you’ to those serving in the military. It all started when Roselle Park resident Diana Parra heard about activities the Roselle Park School District had in place to have students honor veterans on Veterans Day since schools would not be closed that day. But she wished more could be done and proposed an idea that caught the attention of a member of the Roselle Park Board Of Education (BOE) Jeof Vita. It was simple thing, to have children from all the schools write a letter to servicemen and women in the Middle East. She was even willing to mail the box and pay for postage.

Mr. Vita, in turn, presented the idea to School Superintendent Pedro Garrido who thought it was a great idea and he, in turn, reached out to all the school principals to have them collect letters from the students. Even though it was after Veterans Day, the letters were collected on the week of the 16th and Diana packed them all and mailed them out.

When asked what her inspiration was, she stated it was her father, Louis Gomez. He served in the Korean War and volunteered to be the Forward Scout for his army unit. For those who do not know, a Forward Scout is a scout who advances ahead of his unit to check for enemy combatants ahead. He was told by his captain that the average life expectancy of a Forward Scout was four to ten weeks. Still, he volunteered. Even before then, Diana’s father – whom she described as a salty, headstrong man guided by fairness and the American flag – volunteered for the Navy at a young age, 16. He had lied on his application but wanted to serve nonetheless. A few years later he was later drafted and achieved the rank of Staff Sergeant. Her father and his unit saw a lot of death in Korea. He remained strong amid the horrors of war he experienced. They stayed with him but his service to his country shaped him into the father that Diana still loves and admires. Later in life, when she would help him pay his bills, he would always remind her to make sure to send a check to the Disabled American Veterans (DAV). When she would ask him why he still sent checks more than 50 years after the war, he would, with humor, reply, “Because if I send them a few hundred bucks a year, I get free return address labels.”

Diana also comes from a family of veterans. Her brother Roy joined the Air Force where he served five years. Her Uncle Ted served in the Army during World War II, arriving in Normandy the day after D-Day. Her uncle Eugene served as a Major in the US Air Force during Korea where he was a flight navigator on cargo planes. And finally, Diana’s husband Al served almost 14 years in the US Air Force, earning the Bronze Star during Operation Desert Storm. She says, “I am proud of each and every one of them.”

So when the time came for Diana to pick up the letters written by Roselle Park students, she felt such a sense of pride. She recalled, “The sheer volume of them brought tears to my eyes. I was able to glimpse a few of the drawings from the younger students who have not yet learned how to write. Their drawings were magical. The letters written by the older students brought a lump to my throat. I wish I could have read them all. If I had, they would still not have been mailed. I wish I had made copies of them all. I would have brought them to the military cemetery where my father is interred. He would have been so happy and proud.”

And off the letters went to those in uniform. A ‘thank you’ from students in a one-square mile town in America. Diana knows that these letters are cherished and uplifting, and sometimes, depending on their deployment location, many servicemen and women write back. Diana was so ecstatic that she posted on social media, “Letters to our veterans are on their way! Thank you to every Roselle Park student who wrote a letter. You all rock!”

“Regardless of one’s political affiliation, race, creed or stance on war, our active duty troops and veterans deserve our love, respect and honor,” said Diana in closing, “They are our unsung heroes. They are faceless, nameless men and women to many of us. Yet, it is their sole job to keep our homeland safe and our country free. They do what very few of us could, or would. I wish that we could honor these unsung heroes by observing Veterans Day as a day of remembrance.”

She still personally believes that all local, county, state and federal offices as well as schools should be closed to show veterans that America cares enough to honor them with the holiday they deserve. But, for now, she sees this as a wonderful step in helping schoolchildren understand the significance of honoring veterans.