Assistant Managing Editor
EAST LONGMEADOW Capt. Joseph A. Pagnoni sent greetings from Iraq to a room full of overjoyed kindergartners at Meadow Brook School.
In an exchange of correspondence that the tykes initiated last Christmas, Pagnoni thanked the students for the care packages they sent for him and his fellow soldiers.
"We appreciate the support and your generosity is greatly appreciated. Being so far from home, it is always nice to know we are supported in this difficult time in our lives," Pagnoni wrote.
In December, with the help of their parents, students shipped five large boxes filled with hygiene products, stuffed animals for Iraqi children, snacks and more.
Pagnoni, an East Longmeadow native, is assigned to the 405th Combat Support Hospital in West Hartford, Conn., but is also cross leveled to the 325th Combat Support Hospital from Independence, Mo. Supporting him from home are his wife Laurie and his two daughters, five-year-old Cara and three-year-old Kate.
Laurie is extremely grateful for the support the community has shown her husband.
"It was good for my husband emotionally to receive something from his hometown. It always means a lot. I think the farther that you're away, the more you miss home because we all seem to take for granted our day-to-day life," Laurie said. "But when you're so far removed from everything you once knew ... for people to take the time and for him to receive something is a great honor to him. I think he really felt like everyone cared."
Teacher Kristin Rahilly, who spearheaded the project, said the certificates and the American Flag, embroidered with the school's name, was a bonus for the class.
"It's not about the response, it's about the giving. It was an added plus," Rahilly said.
The students were proud of their deeds as well.
"We gave them lots of stuff to take care of them," one said.
"I feel very good about it," Margaret shared.
"And that's really what it's all about," Rahilly explained to them.
In addition to the items they sent, the students' book, "Ten Black Dots," was also well received. Drawings were put together to tell a story.
"I also want to thank you and the students of classroom 30 for the 'Black Dots' book, I have placed it in the hospital and it has been read and enjoyed by several wounded Iraqi children," Pagnoni wrote.
Principal Judy Fletcher beamed with pride about the book and said it was from "East Longmeadow to Iraq, children to children."
The other children in the equation are Pagnoni's own. When he left, his youngest, Kate, was still using a pacifier and diapers. In his absence she has progressed.
"His leaving had a great impact on the kids. It's difficult to say how much they are observing on this situation," Laurie shared. "The military sent us this DVD for 'Sesame Street' about your father going away."
However, Laurie continues to remain strong and said she is very proud of her husband and his commitment.
"No wife could be prouder. Not only does he just always think of others before himself, I think every commitment that he makes he puts everybody first in our family, when it came to going to war. When he thinks of others he puts them first," she said.
Pagnoni is scheduled to return home by the end of July and both he, Rahilly and the students at Meadow Brook are looking forward to the day they can finally meet face-to-face.
"I would love to have him come in," Rahilly said.
Pagnoni's family is even more thrilled at the prospect of his homecoming. Laurie was swept with emotion when the conversation turned to his return.
"His homecoming, for me, is bittersweet. Although I'll be thrilled to have him coming, I know some other wife out there is heartbroken. To know that someone out there is going ... his replacements are coming in and I just feel really deep for the families because I know what it feels like to have him gone for a year," Laurie said.