On Friday afternoon Julia Benbrook, an eighth grader at Woodward Middle School, learned that she had won the Patriot’s Pen Essay Contest national competition. Her essay beat 110,000 other entrants.

For those in Woodward who were associated with Benbrook and her winning essay there was only one emotion when they heard the news -- excitement.

“We were literally jumping up and down when we heard,” said “Doc” Bohlman, the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1335 Patriot’s Pen Chairman.

Benbrook did not learn the news until after school. When her parents told her, the same excitement that rushed through Bohlman when he heard the news was felt by her.

Once the initial excitement was over, reality set in. What had happened and what was going to occur began to flow through Benbrook’s mind.

As winner of the VFW sponsored contest, Benbrook and one parent will be heading to Washington D.C. this April. She will get to read her essay at the national VFW conference, see the sites of the city, maybe meet the Oklahoma Congressional delegation and tour the White House.

Benbrook said going to the White House would be the highlight of the trip, especially if she got to meet the president. According to VFW members, six of the past eight winners of the contest have met the president, but with a new administration in office they could make no promises about a meeting this year.

Still the trip will be an opportunity for Benbrook to visit a city she has not been in since she was four years old. She will also leave $10,000 richer when she receives a check from the VFW at their conference.

Winning the national competition was not a goal when the essay was written, Benbrook said. It all began as a school project for Veteran’s Day. Middle School English teacher Amy Whitewater had her classes write essays for the contest.

A total of 235 essays from seventh and eighth graders at WMS were entered. Three of Whitewater’s students won the local Post 1335 competition, but she said there was something special about Benbrook’s.

“She really did go the extra mile for this paper,” Whitewater said. “She poured her heart into it and I think the judges noticed that.”

This year’s essay theme was “Why America’s Veterans Should be Honored.” Benbrook wrote the essay about her two grandfathers who fought in World War II. Both died before she was born.

“I got to learn something that was important to me,” Benbrook said about the process of researching the lives of her grandfathers. “It was good to learn about my grandparents.”

Benbrook’s maternal grandfather fought in the Pacific Theater and was a prisoner of war for three and a half years. Her paternal grandfather fought in the European Theater and ended up losing his hearing.

Although the essay took a little while to research, Benbrook said it did not take that long to actually write since the rules stipulated only 300 to 400 words could be used.

After winning the local competition, Benbrook and her classmates had their essays entered in the district contest. The three WMS students swept the district competition as well.

From there it was on to the state competition. Once again, the three WMS students finished first, second and third.

“To get a district winner is good,” “Doc” Bohlman said. “I was tickled to death that she won the state competition.”

As a reward for winning the state competition, Benbrook will be in Oklahoma City this weekend to read her essay in front of state VFW members at their mid winter conference. She will also receive a $1,000 savings bond.

The VFW contest has been running for 14 years and this is the first time anyone from Oklahoma has won the national competition.

Bohlman mentioned that there are 15 districts in the state and that Benbrook was one of only 54 students in the country to win a state or territory contest.

“I’m just proud to represent the state, Woodward and my school,” Benbrook said. “It’s an honor to be chosen.”

While Benbrook is in Washington D.C. so will the state winners of the Voice of Democracy competition. This contest is also sponsored by the VFW, but is for high schoolers. So Benbrook will be the only middle school student on the trip.

In fact, while the high schoolers ride around the nation’s capital on a bus with tour guides, Benbrook will have her own private driver and tour guide.

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