In a classroom at the East Quogue Elementary School last week, Marine Corporal Jacob Campbell pulled out his wallet from a pocket of his dress blues. Inside was a hand-drawn four-leaf clover, a lucky charm sent to him by Jocelyn McNamara, a fifth-grader at the school.
“As soon as I got it, I put it in my wallet,” he said to the smiling 10-year-old.
Jocelyn and her fifth grade class, taught by Cary Wyllie, sent letters last fall to his platoon in Sangin, Afghanistan. Cpl. Campbell explained that the mail arrived two weeks after Christmas because a sandstorm delayed the arrival of helicopters. He had just returned from a mission outside the base when it arrived.
“It put a smile on their faces,” he said, recalling the moment he distributed the letters to his fellow marines. “We all enjoyed it quite a bit.”
Jocelyn arrived at school early last Wednesday morning to meet Cpl. Campbell, who hails from Maine but was visiting family while on a 15-day leave and made a special trip to the school to thank her. It was a rare but heartwarming opportunity for both.
“It was funny that he stopped here just because of the letters,” Jocelyn said. “I wasn’t even sure he’d write back.”
She took the opportunity to ask him questions about his time overseas, his specific duties and what marines do in their spare time. He explained that he is the leader of his team, which carries out missions in Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, called MRAPs. They carry around 80 pounds of gear on them at all times, and his wallet, with the clover tucked safely inside, is always in his pocket, he said.
“You may not realize it now, but when you get older, you are going to appreciate your teachers and what they have done for you so much more,” he told Jocelyn, adding that he enjoyed meeting her and the students at the school. “It’s a good reminder of why we’re over there.”
His cousin, Bonnie Chieffo, teaches math in the school district. “Very rarely do you have the opportunity to hear back from them,” she said.
The roughly 440 students who attend the school, along with their teachers, lined the halls of the school to greet Cpl. Campbell after he led them in the Pledge of Allegiance. They cheered and held out their hands, eager for a high-five as he passed by.
“It was heartwarming—it really was,” Principal Robert Long said, adding that the scene brought some teachers to tears.
Cpl. Campbell was the third member of the military to receive such a greeting, which has become a tradition at the Central Avenue school. He will return to California in a few weeks, he said, and he expects to be deployed again within the next 14 months. He does not yet know where his next deployment will land him.
“We have this special connection—I’m not even sure the real reason for it—with members of the armed services,” Mr. Long said. “Just to have someone who connected with our students like that—I know it’s something they’ll always remember.”