Waiau students pay tribute to Navy crew
By Scott Ishikawa
Advertiser Central OÎahu Writer
PEARL CITY The Christmas carols sung by students at Waiau Elementary School were for an audience halfway around the world.
A school assembly was held yesterday to honor the crew of the Pearl Harbor-based destroyer USS Russell, currently in the Indian Ocean as part of a six-month deployment. The destroyer made news last week when it pulled off the first sea rescue of the war on terrorism by plucking the crew of a B-1 bomber downed on a mission over Afghanistan.
Stuffing themselves into the school cafeteria like presents in a Christmas stocking, Waiau's 650 students sang carols and presented greeting cards to their invited guests the spouses of the Russell crew and other Navy officials. The guests also received a homemade 8-by-10-foot U.S. flag made with the students' painted handprints to form the stars and stripes.
"They are very far away from home at this special time of the year," principal Judith Elliott said, addressing the students. "And they are committed to preserving our freedom. That is their gift to us."
Yesterday's assembly filled with Christmas songs and hula performances was also taped and will be sent to the Russell crew as part of a video postcard.
"This is really, really something; I couldn't stop crying while the children were singing," said Mackinley Emmons, whose husband, Jim, serves aboard the Russell and was one of the rescue swimmers who pulled the B-1 bomber crew from the water. "I know the crew will be ecstatic with the video, because they love stuff like this. It reminds them of their families and all of the support back home."
Although no Waiau Elementary students are believed to have family members aboard the Russell, the school decided to "adopt" its crew after teachers began hearing from Emmons about her husband's deployment.
Emmons teaches yoga to some of the Waiau teachers after school.
"I was telling them how ship morale was low after they lost one of their men at sea (on Nov. 27)," Emmons said. "We started talking about possibly sending Christmas cards over to the crew to boost their spirits during the holidays."
So school counselor Lynne Cegler and students took it one step further, organizing yesterday's performance for videotaping.
"I would feel bummed, too, if my parents were away for Christmas or something like that," said sixth-grader and student council president Rachel Samson. "That's why we already wrote a letter to the crew thanking them for defending our country."
Cegler said some of the classes are also trying to keep track of the Russell through news reports.
"We're hoping they will reply back with a video of themselves," she said. "Maybe the students and sailors can stay in touch with one another."
Meanwhile, the Russell spouses are trying to keep their spirits up with a Christmas gathering on Saturday and a halfway-through-deployment party on Jan. 26.
"The technology now available aboard the ship to send e-mails really helps us keep in touch," said ship ombudsman and Navy wife Cindy Lineberry. "We can even send digital pictures from today's event right to them."
As for the U.S. flag that the students created, Lineberry said the spouses will probably display it during the ship's scheduled April 18 homecoming.
Reach Scott Ishikawa at firstname.lastname@example.org or 535-2429.