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thedrifter
01-30-07, 11:39 AM
Marine visits his young penpals
Students wrote to Guantanamo security guard
By Pam Wight, Staff Writer
Whittier Daily News

WHITTIER - Do grenades explode under water? Do soldiers eat monkeys at Guantanamo? Do U.S. Marines get yelled at a lot?

Marine Lance Cpl. James Patterson met a barrage of these and similar questions Monday when he appeared at Scott Avenue Elementary School to speak to students who had sent letters to him at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba in December.

Patterson, 25, of the 2nd FAST CO 5th Platoon, arrived at the school on crutches after having suffered a broken ankle in Guantanamo just before going on his two-week leave.

He spoke with 40 learning center students ranging from first to fifth grade. Many of them shouted out their questions before Patterson could finish answering a prior one.

Teacher Jennifer Lewis said each student had written a letter to Patterson and two other soldiers, one each in Iraq and Bahrain. The recipients were all relatives of the school's instructors, she said.

Edward Ayala, 9, asked Patterson if the Marines ate monkeys in Cuba because he had heard they "eat weird, live things."

"I never met a real Marine," Edward said. "I learned they shave their heads and run like 10 miles."

After his leave, Patterson will ship to the Naval Weapons Station in Yorktown, Va., on Thursday where he will prepare to go to Bahrain in March. He had been stationed for six months at Guantanamo Bay, where he worked in the security forces.

Patterson said he was touched by the letters, which he received by surprise a week before he was to go on leave.

"It felt great to get those letters," said Patterson, who grew up in Whittier. "We were all laughing at some of the questions."

Aldo Montelongo, 8, said his excitement stemmed from watching Marine movies with his older brother.

"It's fun to meet a real soldier," said Aldo, one of the students who kept shouting his questions ahead of his turn. "They get to use a lot of weapons and crawl through the grass and stuff. \ is cool and he's strong as a rock."

One of the first questions the children asked, and one that was repeated several times, was if Patterson had killed anyone.

"No, I haven't shot anyone yet," he said. "But I haven't had to go to Iraq. Hopefully it will be later rather than sooner."

Patterson plans to become a police officer after his military contract expires in 3 1/2 years. He said he will not re-enlist.

"I don't like being away from my family so much," said Patterson, whose wife Sarah is expecting their first child in April.

Ellie