Young Tarheel's Letter to Pentagon Sparks Lesson in Heroism
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sep. 25, 2001 Fourteen days of not finding anyone alive at the Pentagon crash site has caused hopes for a miracle to wane. But a letter from a 12-year-old North Carolina student for several days lifted the spirits of all who read it, particularly Army Col. J. Edgar Wakayama.
Army Col. J. Edgar Wakayama poses with the letter written by Kayle Madren of Elon College, N.C. The fifth-grader wrote calling the rescue and recovery teams at the Pentagon “heroes.” Photo by Rudi Williams.
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Kayle Madren, a fifth grader at Altamahaw Ossipee Elementary School in Elon College, N.C., wrote:
Thank (you) for being our heroes. I hope you find lots of people. Please save the people that are still alive. Thank you for being our heroes.
Dave and Shirley Hall, who are preparing and serving food at "Camp Unity" for workers at the Pentagon crash site, gave the letter to Wakayama while he was eating lunch. The couple is with the "North Carolina Baptist Men," a group of men and women who help the Red Cross feed people during disasters.
Wakayama, an Army reservist on a one-year tour of duty in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, was so taken by the letter that he wrote back to the girl. He wrote, in part:
"Your kind words truly lifted my spirit during this most difficult time in our country's history. Thank you very much for taking time to write this heartwarming letter.
"The mood here is sad," Wakayama continued, "but the spirit of people is high because of the many letters received by students like you. Please pray for the families and friends of those who died and are injured, physically and emotionally, and for our president and the nation."
During a telephone interview, Kayle's parents, Tena and Lester Madren, expressed both surprise and pride. "I didn't think she would realize what was going on, but I guess watching the news on television brought her feelings out," her father said. "That's her true heart coming out."
Kayle said her whole class wrote letters to the Pentagon concerning their feelings about the hijacked airliner that slammed into the building Sept. 11. The fifth grader said she thinks people at the Pentagon are heroes "because they're still looking for people, helping them and protecting us."
"Kayle, we are all heroes," Wakayama wrote in his letter. "Heroes are common people who rise during difficult times and yet somehow manage to overcome tragedy. Heroes are students like you who study hard, listen to their parents and teachers, and become good citizens."
The colonel sent Kayle a diagram of the crash site, a Pentagon shoulder patch and the eagle rank insignia of a colonel. "Tell your school friends that we all appreciate the kind letters, because not many of us can answer all the letters," he said. "God bless you, your family, your school and America."