Student tugs at veteran’s heartstrings


VERSAILLES — Jack D. LeTourneau.

It’s a name not known in Versailles, but it’s one Alexa Didier will never forget.

Alexa and her fellow eighth-graders from Versailles Middle School were in Washington, D.C., for the school’s annual trip to the nation’s capital from May 31 to June 4. On their second to last day there, June 3, the group made their way to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

“My group was waiting to walk down to the wall,” said Alexa. “There was a veteran in a wheelchair and his wife walking up and asking people if they had a ladder.”

The Vietnam veteran was looking for a way to get a rubbing of the name of a fallen brother — U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Jack D. LeTourneau, who was killed in the Lam Dong Province in South Vietnam in February 1962. He was 28 when he gave his life for his country. He was a member of the 1st Air Commando Squadron, 314th Air Division, 13th AF.

His name is forever etched in the Vietnam Wall on Panel 1E, Line 6. The name is on one of the two tallest panels of the memorial — where the two walls meet in the middle.

Too tall for the veteran to do the rubbing himself.

And that’s where Alexa does something that will remain with her forever — she reached out and thanked a veteran for his service by fulfilling his wish, a rubbing of LeTourneau’s name.

“I offered to be lifted up,” said Alexa. “I said it quietly and my chaperon, Janelle Whittaker, heard me. She said it louder to the group.”

The Versailles students, the veteran, his wife and others made their way down to the center of the wall. There, other people were trying to figure out a way to get the rubbing. When they learned Alexa had volunteered to be lifted up, three men volunteered to help her.

With two men holding her feet, and a third holding a hand up behind her as a spotter, Alexa was lifted to the top of the wall. There she made the rubbing of a name of a man who is an American hero.

“I didn’t really feel anything when I was being lifted up,” said Alexa. “But when I handed him the name, it got very emotional. His wife said to the vet that they were going to keep it in a place for safekeeping. He started crying and then she started crying. Then they started hugging,” she said.

Her classmates told her she had done an amazing thing.

“They said it was ‘amazing and very nice of you,’” Alexa said.

Back in Ohio, Alexa’s mom, Kara, had wanted to go to D.C. with her daughter. Her husband, Doug, had gone on the trip with the couple’s older child four years ago. But Kara, who had a double-lung transplant three years ago, knew she couldn’t handle the pace of the trip.

Many people took photos of Alexa near the top of the wall. Janell Whittaker sent one back to Ohio to Kara’s cell phone.

“It was overwhelming,” said Kara. “It gave me such a sense of pride and joy. I almost felt like I was there at that moment. I started crying. It was a gesture of helping a veteran. It was an amazing moment.”

Dean Eversole, who was a chaperon on the trip, posted the photo on Facebook and told everyone to share it. On the photo he wrote, “Let’s share this with the world. Versailles 8th graders were in Washington DC recently. While visiting the Vietnam Memorial a veteran and his wife discovered his friend’s name was at the top and they could not get an image. Alexa Didier a Versailles 8th grader said if people lifted her up she would get it. That’s her in the orange. People gathered in amazement snapping photos holding back tears. Folks there are young people who do care and I’m proud to say they live in my town.”

There are two photos of Alexa on Facebook doing the rubbing. At press time, one of the photos had 6,158 shares. Another photo had more than 700 likes.

“One lady sent it to a military blog,” said Kara. “An administrator on the blog site said he has a friend who’s Ellen DeGeneres’s dog trainer. So he’s going to try to make sure Ellen sees the picture.”

Kara has also sent it to “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” as well as the “Today Show” and “WDTN-TV.”

“I didn’t think I did that much,” said Alexa. “My mom said that I touched their hearts. Then I understood what I did.”

And that moment of helping a veteran will remain etched in Alexa’s mind forever. And for the Vietnam veteran, the small act of generosity performed by a young girl from Ohio shows that America will not forget men such as 1st Lt. Jack D. LeTourneau, who was killed in the line of duty in Vietnam.

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