COLUMBIA — Ashley Rippeto remembers her grandfather telling stories about his return from the Vietnam War and the excitement he felt when he was finally reunited with his wife and son.
As the Rock Bridge junior reflected about her grandfather for the annual Truman Memorial Veterans' Hospital essay contest, she struggled to grasp a full understanding of the change he experienced during his time at war.
Eight Columbia Public School students were awarded a cash prize Friday at the Truman Memorial Veterans' Hospital for their participation in the annual Veterans Day essay contest.
First prize, $100: Kelley Tackett, Jefferson Junior High School and Julia Schaller, Rock Bridge High School.
Second prize, $75: Marilise Stamps, Jefferson Junior and Cole Gallagher, Rock Bridge High.
Third place, $50: Grant Sykuta, Jefferson Junior and Elizabeth Clapp, Rock Bridge High.
Honorable mention, $25: Ethan Forte, Jefferson Junior and Ashley Rippeto, Rock Bridge High.
She wishes she had learned more before he died.
"I would want to know if he was the same person when he came back from the war," Rippeto said. "I would probably ask him if he was able to continue being himself."
"He reflected on the Vietnam War," she wrote in her essay. "What a terrible war it had been. So much blood and tears and pain. His wife had said people change in war, for this is why she never wanted him to leave; but he felt obligated. He knew he had to. Like a dog should come to the whistle of its owner, he must obey his country’s call."
Rippeto was among eight Columbia Public School students recognized on Friday at the Truman Memorial Veterans' Hospital for their winning essays.
Stephen Gaither, public affairs officer at the Truman Memorial, said the contest has been held since 1999 and focuses on the same question each year, "Why Are Veterans Special?"
"It helps us focus on the importance of what veterans have done," Gaither said. "The purpose is really to have the society reflect back on the contributions that individuals have made in defense of our liberties."
The contest is offered for both junior and senior high school students. Gaither said the hospital received around 60 entries for the junior high level and 18 for the high school level.
Freshman Kelley Tackett from Jefferson Junior High School focused on the sacrifices veterans make for our country both off and on the battlefield in her essay.
Her essay reads: "Everything a veteran must do is a sacrifice, from leaving behind their lives, to stepping onto the battlefield. The sacrifice of time is just as important as the bravery shown in war, and oftentimes much more difficult. These sacrifices are what make veterans special."
"I was thinking about how veterans display so much civic virtue for their country and about the sacrifices they made," Tackett said at the ceremony. "That's what veterans have that separate them from normal citizens."
All essays go through a screening process at the individual schools before they're submitted to the hospital, Gaither said. Employees at the hospital serve as the judges, making recommendations for first, second, third and honorable mention.
Cash donations and certificates were awarded to the contest winners at the ceremony.