PUBLISHED: | UPDATED:

DRACUT — Sgt. Maj. Don Martin of the 804th Army Medical Brigade in Devens has been to Iraq three times during his 25-year military career. When he received the first batch of hand-made greeting cards from students at the Campbell Elementary School, he told himself he needed to do something really big to say thank you.

And he did.

Martin, who deployed to Iraq with the 3rd Medcom unit out of Devens, raised an American flag in the green zone of Baghdad in honor of the school.

On May 25, during the school’s annual Memorial Day assembly, Martin presented the flag to a group of children on a stage in front of fellow veterans, faculty and students.

He told them how much the cards meant to the soldiers fighting a war overseas. He told them how the cards made people laugh for a moment in a place where humor is hard to come by.

“You should read some of the cards,” he said after the services. “Look at this one,” he said, pointing to a big blue card bearing the words, “You Rock Dude,” in a child’s handwriting. A picture of a paratrooper was drawn in blue crayon.

The children wrote letters and made cards for Martin’s unit throughout the year.

Martin said the cards circulated to men and women soldiers in area military hospitals as well. Some of them don’t have families to send them mail, he said.

The children in the auditorium looked up at Martin standing in his camouflage uniform as he spoke. They listened to his words and for the first time put a face to the destination of their loving work.

Martin’s neighbor, Johanna Reagan, is a teacher at Campbell Elementary School. She and Principal Jill Mullavey organized the card project at the Campbell as a way to show appreciation to the troops.

“It’s important to recognize our heroes over there defending us,” said Mullavey.

Reagan asked Martin to help get the cards to soldiers in need of a memento from home and he agreed without hesitation.

When Martin came to meet the school children, the school chorus stood on the school stage wearing white T-shirts with American flags. They sang patriotic songs and read the history of the United States and its flag. Veterans were invited from the American Legion Post 315 in Dracut. Representatives attended Memorial Day services in five surrounding schools.

The flag presented by Martin will hang along with a framed certificate in the lobby of the school.

Have a story idea? Contact Heidi Smith at (978)257-6015 or e-mail at hsmith@thevalleydispatch.com.