Gateway: News

Honor Flight creates special pen pal connection

Vaughn Elementary School student Ali Kimball presents former U.S. Navy veteran and new friend William Deller with flowers as an honor to his World War II service during Tuesday’s assembly at the school. The two formed a relationship through letter-writing program at the school.
Vaughn Elementary School student Ali Kimball presents former U.S. Navy veteran and new friend William Deller with flowers as an honor to his World War II service during Tuesday’s assembly at the school. The two formed a relationship through letter-writing program at the school. Staff photographer

On a flight back from Washington D.C. in March, 93-year-old World War II veteran Bill Deller read a heartfelt letter from Vaughn Elementary fourth-grader Alli Kimball.

He flipped the paper over and read a final inscription from Alli: “Write me back!”

Deller, a retired Navy commander who lives in Everett, did just that. His son, John, reached out to Vaughn Principal Susan O’Leary, who delivered the letter to Alli. On Tuesday morning, the Dellers met Alli at the beginning of Vaughn’s annual Veterans Day assembly.

“It was just a beautiful letter,” John said of Alli’s writing.

The Honor Flight gives veterans “one last mission,” sending them on a trip to Washington D.C. to see the war memorials. It was a whirlwind trip for Bill Deller, who was welcomed by those out on the National Mall.

“We hardly got down there (to see the memorials) because everyone was stopping and thanking him for his service,” John Deller said.

Bill Deller served in the U.S. Navy. He was in the armed forces for 27 years. In World War II he fought in the Pacific as a Navy pilot. His primary mission was pre-invasion mapping, flying over areas that had yet to be mapped.

Other special veterans also attended the assembly Tuesday. Vaughn third-graders had a project this year where they interviewed veterans. Students shared lessons they learned from their veteran.

Vince Nelson was interviewed by a student and then invited to the assembly. A helicopter combat pilot, Nelson served in the Army for 20 years. Nelson flew the Huey, Cobra and OH-6 “Loach” helicopters during his yearlong combat stint in Vietnam, from 1969 to 1970.

Tears welled in his eyes when he spoke of his service and his compatriots. Nelson said he would do it all over again if he could still serve with those who were with him during those trying times.

“That one year was the defining moment of my life,” Nelson said of his combat flying tour in Vietnam.

Nelson attended an assembly at Key Peninsula Middle School later that day. He said he felt honored to be invited.

“Anybody who serves, deserves,” Nelson said.

Also attending was the Ewens family, who live on the Key Peninsula. Stephen Ewens is one of four brothers who all served in the military. Stephen’s brother, Forrest, died while deployed to Afghanistan.

Ewens’ son, Cayden, 7, is in second grade at Vaughn. His youngest son, Forrest, 4, is named for his brother. He came to the assembly with his parents, too.

Ewens’ has translated his experiences into art, funding a project on Kickstarter called The Afghanistan Project. He paints his experiences to help process some of the more difficult memories.

The assembly included music by the Vaughn xylophone players. Many of the students shared lessons they learned about the armed forces.

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