Students Express Thanks to U.S. Service Members with Operation Gratitude

By: Shanna Sweitzer

A simple thank you can go a long way.

At Hershey High School’s first ever Community Day held on Friday, April 29, 2016, English teacher, Richard Bittinger, held a session for Operation Gratitude to make thank you cards for members of the U.S. military.

“Before you leave today, all of you will have made a difference,” Bittinger said.

Bittinger teaches  AP Literature, a senior class, where they read a fictional book, “All Quiet on the Western Front,” about a soldier in battle during World War II. A couple of years ago, he and his students came up with the idea that instead of having a test at the end of the course, they would do a service project.

Freshmen, Jack Wetherhold (left) and Kurt Steinruck, write letters to U.S. service members on Friday, April 29, 2016. The students wrote what they admire about soldiers in the military.
Freshmen, Jack Wetherhold (left) and Kurt Steinruck, write letters to U.S. service members on Friday, April 29, 2016. The students wrote what they admire about soldiers in the military.

They then teamed up with the Wounded Warrior Project, a non-profit organization that offers programs and events for wounded veterans after September 11, 2001 and completed their service project. Students would interview someone with experience in the military, write about it, and then share it.

Hearing about Community Day at HHS, Bittinger wanted to host a session that would mean a lot but was at no cost. He contacted the Wounded Warrior Project, and they suggested Operation Gratitude.

Operation Gratitude is a non-profit, volunteer-based organization that is dedicated to “saying ‘thank you’ to all who serve” in the U.S. military. The organization has been sending care packages to soldiers since 2003. The packages consist of snacks, entertainment, hygiene and hand-made items, and personal letters.

Annually, Operation Gratitude, sends over 150,000 care packages to members of the military such as New Recruits, Veterans, First Responders, Purple Heart Recipients, Caregivers and individually-named U.S. Service Members deployed overseas. Each package is valued at $75-$100 and costs about $15 to ship.

Students entered the session and were immediately welcomed by Bittinger. “You conquer something by making someone’s day,” he said explaining what the students would get out of the session.

The instructions were to write a card to a service member beginning with something like, “Dear Hero.” Without giving any personal information besides name and location, students were to express their thanks for soldiers’ service in the military. Students could talk about their interests like movies or music, just to give the soldier a sense of their personality.

Operation Gratitude says, “The most cherished items are the personal letters of appreciation.”

The session offered snacks, juice, and a variety of colored paper for students to write their letters on. The room was quiet and the students got busy writing their thanks for those serving in the military.

As one of the letter-writers, sophomore, Hannah Banka said, “It’s nice that we’re writing to members of the military to show our appreciation because they deserve it.”