Fourth-grader Kasen Cooley explains the ins and outs of making Valentine’s Day cards to Navy veteran Benjamin Studley on Thursday, beginning with gluing on the heart and ending with what to write on it. “We have a list of ideas on the wall over there,” said the polite 10-year-old, “if you need help thinking of something to say.” (Dan Bates / The Herald)

From the heart: Kids make valentines for veterans

It wasn’t a typical assignment, but Machias Elementary School sixth-grader Liv Harrison put her heart into it.

“To someone special,” Liv wrote. She had decorated her pink construction-paper card with hearts and Cupid’s arrows.

Benjamin Studley, a 37-year-old Navy veteran and former Machias Elementary Bobcat, was on a mission when he visited his alma mater Thursday. As Liv, her classmates and other students created cards, Studley made his rounds at the Snohomish district school. He was there as part of a Valentines for Veterans effort.

Carrying a box covered with paper hearts, he and several other veterans gathered the handcrafted valentines. Those colorful cards were being delivered Saturday to patients at the VA Puget Sound hospital in Seattle by Studley and U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene, a Democrat representing Washington’s 1st Congressional District.

Studley, who lives in Lynnwood, is a Wounded Warrior Fellow working with DelBene’s office as a veterans case worker and field representative.

“I guarantee you, it’s going to make their whole day,” Studley told teacher Julie Blue’s fifth-grade class. In the classroom of teacher Tony Cervantes, Studley said that while valentines may not seem like much, “they really mean something to us.”

Studley, who served in the Navy from 1998 to 2014, knows firsthand about letters of appreciation. Nearly nine years ago, while aboard a ship in the South China Sea, he was cheered up by pen pals from Machias Elementary.

He told kids Thursday that his mother had contacted Therese Evans, who still teaches at the school. “My mom reached out to Mrs. Evans and said ‘My son is on deployment,’ ” Studley said.

Showing how much the kids’ letters meant to him, he opened a big envelope. In it were all the notes and drawings he received years ago from Evans’ class.

In a recent email to Evans, he let the teacher know details of his upcoming visit. And noting his Machias pen pals, he added: “I still have every one of those letters and I will always remember the impact it made for me out in the middle of the ocean.”

The teacher said Thursday that Studley more than returned the favor. “He wrote a full-page letter to every single kid,” said Evans, who now teaches third grade.

Studley told kids Thursday that while at sea he often reread the letters. “It brought me into your world,” he said. A self-described “local boy,” he grew up on Newberg Road, not far from the school. He attended the old Machias Elementary, which was replaced by a new building about five years ago.

During more than 15 years in the Navy, he served on three ships, including 2001-2004 aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln. The aircraft carrier was formerly based at Naval Station Everett. His service coincided with the war in Iraq.

He was accompanied Thursday by Everett’s Micah Biffle, who served four years in the U.S. Army. Navy veterans Rebecca Murch and Emma Kirby also helped Studley gather valentines.

Studley, who studied at the University of Washington with Biffle, said that after earning his degree he learned about the opportunity to work in government through the Wounded Warrior Program. Its fellowships offer jobs with members of Congress. Working on local nominations for U.S. military academies is among his tasks.

This weekend’s valentine delivery comes as the federal Department of Veterans Affairs begins its annual National Salute to Veteran Patients. During the week of Feb. 14 each year, people are encouraged to visit VA hospitals, volunteer or send good wishes through Valentines for Veterans efforts.

In classroom after classroom, Studley asked students if they knew any veterans. Hands shot up. One boy said his grandfather served in Vietnam. Another student’s mother soon will be deployed.

Sixth-grader Lilly Darby kept her message to a hospitalized veteran as simple as could be. On a purple card, Lilly drew a cheery rainbow and added: “THX!”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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