My great aunt Dorothy was a nurse and is a veteran. She has told stories of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. She has always enjoyed my writing and recently surprised me with an opportunity to attend a legendary event called "The Voice of Democracy."

Dorothy has been an avid member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars for many years, which is the organization that sponsors this wonderful scholarship program. For 56 years veterans from all over our country gather money and awards for recognition of outstanding young speakers and writers, who are given the chance to showcase their abilities. This year's event took place at the Shilo Inn in The Dalles Feb. 8.

I escorted my mom into the formal dining area, which was very crowded and elegantly decorated with white table cloths and a brilliant red, white and blue patriotic theme. At center stage was a huge podium for the honored guests, 16 of our state's highly regarded young scholars.

As we were about to be seated, a distinguished gentleman approached our table and asked if we were from Pendleton. After introducing ourselves, he invited us to dine with his group, which was the District 8 table from Pendleton and surrounding areas. Our dinner was very nice but it took quite a while to serve the number of people who were eating. The dessert was extraordinary. I must say that I felt a need to recall the proper etiquette that I rarely use around the table at home.

After dinner each district winner was introduced. Their achievements were listed, which were impressive, to say the least. Some aspired to attend Yale, Princeton or Harvard, or yearned to be teachers or engineers. They ranged in age from 15 to 18; some were home schooled and some were early graduates. One thing that they all had in common was their incredible ability at such a young age to write with conviction and speak with confidence.

The main event featured the top five winners. Students read their speech and vied for the opportunity to advance to the national competition in Washington, D.C. Devin Griggs from Athena was in the top five; he did a marvelous job on his speech about "Freedom's obligations." Congratulations Devin, you did our district proud!

I had a great time and learned a lot from this experience. I am hopeful to be able to participate in this event in the future. With war so close at hand, it is difficult to think that some of these kids are old enough to participate. I know they would if they were needed because they all have a deep appreciation for our country and the veterans who have given of their time and lives to protect it. And I personally, would like to thank all you veterans as well for your efforts on the battlefields and then again here at home, supporting a new generation of loyal young Americans.

Jake Hartley is an eighth-grade student at Sunridge Middle School in Pendleton.

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