Nuclear devastation, wounded soldiers from Iraq and paper cranes have little in common; but all are tied together in a Community of Caring project orchestrated by students from Crestwood Elementary School in Springfield.
"Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes" by Eleanor Coerr is a story about a Hiroshima victim, Sadako Sasaki, who died of leukemia after the devastation at the end of World War II. Her goal before dying in 1955 was to make a thousand paper cranes to bring her good luck, but she died before she finished, making only 644 cranes. Her friends made the remaining cranes. A statue of Sadako holding a crane is part of a memorial in Hiroshima called the Peace Park.
Crestwood sixth-graders read Coerr's book, which sparked an idea to make a thousand cranes for the wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, D.C. The students teamed with the Red Cross to facilitate the project.
Coerr's book is a staple among elementary-school students, said Carol McNertney, one of the sixth-grade teachers involved in the project. McNertney volunteered at Walter Reed in the early 1990s during the Desert Storm war in Iraq.
"We were already reading the book," she said. "This is a very popular book. It is recognized by the county. It's not a controversial book at all."
The sixth-graders started folding paper, making the origami paper cranes, and linked them together on a wall-hanging wreath. The whole school joined the effort by collecting personal-care items, books and magazines for the soldiers. There are 25-30 boxes of supplies. The children wrote letters to the troops as well.
"Each class had a box," McNertney said. "The sixth-graders wanted to make a connection to their reading and writing."
Natalie Trodden, 11, and Nancy Pham, 12, orchestrated the crane project, and Natalie made the wreath. Nancy learned origami from a friend at her church and taught Natalie. Harbi Olhaye, 12, had an uncle who was an Army veteran.
According to the book, "If a sick person folds one thousand paper cranes, the gods will grant her wish and make her well again."
"We can relate to it in some ways," Harbi said.
Harbi also keeps an eye on the news these days, noting that November had the most American casualties in Iraq so far.
"There's more people coming to Walter Reed Hospital," he said.
"We're making a thousand paper cranes to make them feel better," said Rajvir Singh, 12.
On Thursday, Dec. 4, the school was scheduled to deliver the supplies and letters to the Red Cross office at Walter Reed.
Barbara Green, Red Cross representative at Walter Reed, noted security concerns involved with the personal care items, just as there were earlier in the war, with food packages going over to Iraq. The Red Cross was concerned that the packages could be tampered with to harm soldiers. Although the personal-care items will not go directly to the hospitalized soldiers, Green redirects the materials to soldiers’ families and others that can make decisions for themselves, she said.
"The Red Cross will distribute it to families of soldiers and outpatient soldiers," Green said.
The hospitalized soldiers will get the letters, though.
"The soldiers love those," she said.
The Red Cross at Walter Reed has received lots of support for the wounded soldiers. Groups that Green has received things from include seniors, civic groups, Scouts and students.
"We are overwhelmed," she said.