The Associated Press
Saturday, May 27, 2006; 4:28 AM
SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- A soldier said he gave his Purple Heart to a 13-year-old student who won a contest for writing letters to American troops out of gratitude.
"It's important what these children do for us in sending these letters," Staff Sgt. Phillip Trackey said after giving away the medal he received for injuries in Iraq. "The letters mean so much to us. So I thought this was a big way of giving something back to them."
Trackey and a group of fellow Fort Drum soldiers attended a ceremony Thursday at West Genesee Middle School in honor of seventh-grader Fatima Faisal, who was a regional winner in the Letters to the Front contest sponsored by the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post.
After Faisal received her prizes, Trackey stood and held up his Purple Heart for everyone to see. Then, he pinned it on the girl's blouse.
Fatima said she didn't know what to say or do.
"I'm touched. I'm speechless," Fatima said. "This is the sweetest thing ever."
Her letter was chosen the best out of more than 300 letters written in the age 12-18 category in the central New York region. Faisal wrote, "I give you great respect because you had a choice to join the military and because of your bravery and courage you decided to join."
She won a T-shirt, a certificate and a $50 savings bond.
But the Purple Heart was the top prize, Faisal said, adding she hoped to mount it in a frame to hang in her room.
"When he gave it to her, I was getting chills," said Nadia Faisal, Fatima's mother. "I told her 'Oh my gosh, Fatima. You should treasure it forever.'"
Trackey, of Glens Falls, said he received the medal for shoulder and head wounds he suffered when a bomb went off near him in Baghdad in January 2005. Trackey said his Purple Heart was just collecting dust at home.