When 14-year old Gananda eighth grader Duncan Fullard received an assignment from his teacher to write to a veteran, he took the task to heart.
Writing to a person he had never met, Duncan tried to imagine the recipient of his words, and wrote slowly and clearly. “I wanted to be sure he could read what I wrote.”
In his heartfelt letter, sent to a veteran who was on his way to Washington with Honor Flight, Duncan opened by thanking his chosen recipient for his service to his country. The student knew that the man had been in service during the Vietnam war, but was not aware how much the veteran would take these words to heart.
Hearing that his letter receiver was a Marine Corps vet who served as a combat engineer, Duncan asked about that role and that job. He wanted to know why he chose that kind of work and what it involved.
On the other end of those carefully written words was Marine Corporal E4 David Root, currently of Taylors, South Carolina.
So taken was Root with the letter and the words of Duncan Fullard he requested a chance to meet the student when he arrived back in the Rochester area to visit with his daughter Sommer.
Delighted with the request, the Gananda School District arranged the meeting last week.
With a hearty handshake, the now 73 year old Marine met his letter author at the Middle School library and they began to learn about each other.
Corporal Root recalled that he was on the plane heading to Washington, D.C. when his name was called and he was given three handwritten notes. He had read Duncan’s letter first. His daughter Sommer who accompanied Root to the school, said that after reading the brief but impressive letter, she heard him saying “That was nice...that was really nice.” Sommer was his “guardian” for the Washington trip, and recalled how much he was moved. “Right after the first day’s visits to the monuments, we returned to our hotel, and Dad sat right down and wrote back to Duncan.
“It was, to me, such a pat on the back. A real welcome and caring note,” the veteran told the teenager.
He recalled for Duncan that when he came home from Vietnam, “the reception for the veterans was not a welcome one. The war was not a popular one, and some of us were spat on and harassed. When I got home, I even had trouble finding a job because of my service over there.”
“But two of the best things that came out of this recent Honor Flight trip, was the heartfelt message from you, young man, and the incredible parade-like welcome home from people at the Rochester Airport. It was the kind of welcome home I would have wanted back then, but I was so moved to have it now,” said Root.
Duncan asked his guest if he could tell him more about his experience during the war. “How old were you when you went it, and where exactly were you?”
“I was just 19 when I enlisted in 1968. My job was chosen for me after boot camp training at Camp LeJeune. We are tested to see what skills we would use best during the war. Our MOS (Military Occupational Specialist) was the job we were given. It was a job, like any job. We were all just grunts doing what we were told to do,” said Root.
“My combat unit was based just south of the border with North Vietnam, on the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) in South Vietnam. You do your job and you do it well. We were trained and I was definitely trained well. My job was to clear mines, build culverts, fix bridges and put out mines. I was trained as a combat engineer, and our base in was in Dong Ha. “
“I was there was 10 months, although I was scheduled to serve 12 months there. At age 19, I suffered a heart attack - they called it viral pericarditis. It is an inflammation of the area around the heart. I remember heading for the mess hall and feeling a little dizzy. I just didn’t feel quite right, and then I remember crossing my arms over my chest and watching the ground come towards me.”
“Next I remember being on a stretcher, strapped in on a helicopter and heading for the Navy medial ship, where I recall Martha Ray was serving as a nurse and welcoming all of us. I was sent home to New York City and finally discharged early, just shy of my three year commitment to the Marines.”
“One thing I learned well and enjoyed was the hand-to-hand combat fighting. I enjoyed the training and really took to it, so that, after the war, I learned martial arts and taught it for 32 years.”
Root asked his new friend, Duncan, if he had other questions.
The young man asked about what food he ate while in Vietnam.
Root tried to describe “K-rations” and “C-rations” and how the men would heat up their cans of food using every heating source they could get, including C4 (without the blasting caps) to get a good flame. “Sometimes we would just mix all of our food together, dessert to main food on our metal plate and eat our way to the bottom.”
Dave asked Duncan about his interest in sports. Duncan revealed that he began teaching himself to skate at about 6 years old a pond at his home, and he learned to play hockey, joining his first team this year.
The veteran told his new young friend to just practice and learn everything you can about something you love to do and be the best - strive to be #1. Never give up.
The two ended their meeting at the school with Root presenting a small bag of gifts to Duncan and giving him the letter in response to the one he received on the plane.
Duncan opened the letter and read aloud Root’s words.
I was only 4 year older than you when I went in to the Marines. I did so because I believed in what I was doing is right. Better to fight there, than here. When you are taught to do a job, you do it well or I wouldn’t be writing this to you. I was not in the service a full 3 years. Close - but shy by a week.
Nothing is impossible. I also learned and taught martial arts for 32 years. So, find out what you’re good at and work on it.”