America Supports You: Teen Honors War Dead, Visits Wounded
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 2, 2007 Under wintry skies at Arlington National Cemetery today, a California teenager who has generated 2.6 million messages of gratitude to U.S. servicemembers placed a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns.
Shauna Fleming, left, and Principal Gregg Pinick of Lutheran High School in Orange, Calif., stand to honor fallen servicemembers after placing a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery on behalf of the school. Defense Dept. photo by Samantha L. Quigley
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Shauna Fleming, 17, founded “A Million Thanks,” placed the wreath before visiting with recovering servicemembers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here.
A Million Thanks is a member organization of the Defense Department’s America Supports You program, which highlights and facilitates the ways Americans are supporting the nation’s servicemembers.
Yesterday at the Pentagon, Fleming presented her program’s 2.6 millionth letter to Army Command Sgt. Maj. Willam J. Gainey, senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The total represents the number of men and women in the nation’s active and reserve-component forces.
The Orange, Calif., teenager placed the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns with the help of her principal, Gregg Pinick, on behalf of Orange Lutheran High School and its students.
“The students are the ones who come and sort the mail, and count it, and package it, and get it ready to send off to the troops,” Fleming said. “I thought since I can’t bring all 1,200 students out here, I’d lay the wreath on behalf of them.”
Though Fleming has participated in two previous wreath ceremonies at the Tomb of the Unknowns, she admitted to some nerves before beginning. It was the first such ceremony for Pinick.
“I was just in awe of all the people that had done this before. There are no words for the feelings that you have,” he said of participating in the solemn honor. “(I’m) very thankful to the men and women that serve us each and every day. We are grateful, and we know what (they’re) doing makes a difference in our lives.”
During yesteday’s Pentagon visit, Pinick accepted an Office of the Secretary of Defense Exceptional Public Service Award in honor of Orange Lutheran’s support of the America Supports You program and A Million Thanks.
After the wreath-laying, Fleming and her family headed to Walter Reed Army Medical Center’s Fisher and Mologne houses to visit with recovering servicemembers. She also had something special for them: about 600 letters, thank you cards and Valentine’s Day wishes she received through her program.
“Some of them have not even gotten letters while they were over there from family or friends,” Fleming said. “So it’s an experience unlike any other just because of the fact that they are so grateful that they are receiving letters from people they don’t even know.”
When she returns to California, Fleming said, she’ll be focusing on college applications, but she’s not giving up her support of the troops.
“I’m actually planning on starting chapters so other high schools can do what my school has done and just kind of have (an) “A Million Thanks” home base,” she said.
She said she’ll also establish the “A Million Thanks Foundation” will raise funds to help wounded soldiers returning from duty obtain some things that may not be provided for them.