The Woodward Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1335 and their Auxiliary prepare for their meeting at the VFW building on Main Street Tuesday evening. Members of the post encourage middle and high school students to participate in the “What Makes America Great” essay competitions this year. (Photo by Dawnita Fogleman

“What Makes America Great” is the theme for the 2019-2020 Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) essay competition.

There is concern that the Woodward area may not have as many participants in the competition as in previous years, according to Woodward VFW Representative Dr. Curtis Bohlman who was a flight surgeon in the Navy, serving with the Marines in Vietnam in 1967 and 1968.

“We have been having really good participation. We've had, like 225 last year. That's really bunch. So there are hardly any schools really that have that many,” Bohlman said. “It's a good thing for them to think about a patriotic topic.”

Bohlman’s concern stems from a potential drop in teacher participation. In the past, he said, Woodward schools used this contest as a class assignment, but this year it will be optional.

There are two distinct contests, one for 6th through 8th grades, called the Patriot’s Pen and the other for 9th through 12th grade called Voice of Democracy. Each year more than 120,000 middle schoolers are invited to participate and nearly 40,000 high schoolers enter.

The Voice of Democracy program has been going on since 1946, according to Bohlman.

According to Bohlman, these contests are not only for public school students. Homeschoolers in Oklahoma have won the state competition before.

“Two sisters that won that state competition. And they were both homeschooled. They won it different years,” Bohlman explained. “It was pretty cool. So they got to go on to national.”

The local VFW Post 1335 participates, giving local students an opportunity to win a scholarship, then sending winning essays to a district level scholarship competition, and winners go on to state and national levels. The more entries they receive at a local level, the more they can send on to district. According to Bohlman, one in every 15 entries can be sent to the district competition.

“We had the national winner of the Patriot’s Pen,” Bohlman said. “That was absolutely amazing. And I'll tell you what was cool. Was that particular year (2009), Glenn Gardner from down in Texas was the commander in chief. And he had appointed me as the chairman of the national programs committee. So I was there in Washington, DC when Julia (Benbrook) came there with her parents. She was introduced at the at the big deal and gave her essay and she won that $10,000 scholarship.”

In addition to the scholarships, state winners receive and all-expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C. to tour the city, be honored by the VFW and Auxiliary and receive national awards.

Student entry deadline is Oct. 31. Rules and entry forms can be found at https://www.vfw.org/community/youth-and-education/youth-scholarships.

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