SYRACUSE, N.Y. – A soldier said he was only showing his gratitude when gave his Purple Heart to a 13-year-old student being honored for winning a contest for writing letters to American troops.
"It's important what these children do for us in sending these letters," said Staff Sgt. Phillip Trackey, after giving away the medal he received for injuries in Iraq. "The letters mean so much to us. So I thought this was a big way of giving something back to them."
Trackey and a group of fellow Fort Drum soldiers were attending a ceremony Thursday at West Genesee Middle School for seventh-grader Fatima Faisal, of Camillus, who was being honored as a regional winner in the Veteran's of Foreign Wars' Letters to the Front contest.
After Faisal received her prizes, Trackey stood and held up his Purple Heart for everyone to see. Then, he pinned it on the girl's blouse.
Fatima said she didn't know what to say or do.
"I'm touched. I'm speechless," Fatima said. "This is the sweetest thing ever."
Faisal's letter was chosen the best out of more than 300 letters written in the age 12-18 category in the Central New York region. The national contest was to write letters to servicemen and servicewomen starting with the line, "Dear Service Member, I just wanted to say thanks for ..."
Teacher Donna Mahar said she has her seventh-grade classes participate in the yearly contest. About 60 of her pupils wrote letters, she said.
In her letter, Faisal said, "...I give you great respect because you had a choice to join the military and because of your bravery and courage you decided to join."
For winning the contest, Faisal received a T-shirt, a certificate and a $50 savings bond.
But the Purple Heart was the top prize, Faisal said, adding she hoped to mount it in a frame to hang in her room.
"When he gave it to her, I was getting chills," said Nadia Faisal, Fatima's mother. "I told her 'Oh my gosh, Fatima. You should treasure it forever.'"
Trackey, of Glens Falls, said he received the medal for the shoulder and head wounds he suffered when a bomb went off near him in Baghdad in January 2005. Trackey said his Purple Heart was just collecting dust at home.