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Serviceman says ‘thank you’ to fourth graders

They had said “hello” with their cards last month, but some Ironton students got to meet in person their hometown hero Wednesday.

Senior Airman James “Matthew” Blankenship spoke to the fourth graders, each of whom had made a Valentine’s card for him and his squadron last month.

“I wanted to thank them one on one,” Blankenship said. “And show them some pictures.”

After thanking the students for their cards, Blankenship answered students’ questions and showed them pictures of his time in Iraq.

One of the first enquiries was about the weather in Iraq.

“Who likes summer time?” Blankenship asked the children, who all lifted a hand to indicate their love for the season. “It’s like that all the time.”

Another student was interested in how Iraqi food tastes.

“Yes, I have (tried the food),” he told students. “And it’s not very good at all.”

Blankenship’s squadron is only one of the groups the students sent cards to.

They also made Valentine’s cards for patients at the veterans’ hospital in Huntington and service personnel in Japan.

“The smallest little gesture, especially from the little ones like this, makes a big difference,” Blankenship said.

Matthew’s sister, Angela Malone, a library aide at Ironton High School, put fourth-grade teacher Heather Kerns in touch with Blankenship. Kerns organized the project.

Blankenship, a 2002 graduate of Ironton High School, is spending some rest and recuperation time at home in Ironton before heading back to Iraq.

“(It’s been) hard,” Erica Blankenship, Matthew’s wife, said. “He tries to call or email at least once a day so I know he’s OK.”

She described his coming home for R&R time as bittersweet.

“It’s hard because he’s got to go back,” she said.