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thedrifter
02-14-09, 09:12 AM
Summit Cove boy meets Marine pen-pal on 'Today' show


By Robert Allen
summit daily news,

Jacob Poehls didn’t have much to say on national television Thursday morning. Perhaps the surprise face-to-face with his Marine penpal under bright lights in New York City left the 8-year-old a bit befuddled.

“I really, really, really love him,” Jacob said to NBC Today Show’s Meredith Vieira.

Sgt. Baltazar Pineda responded through a live video feed from Al Asad Airfield in Iraq.

“I love you too, buddy,” he said.

Moments earlier, the third-grader from Summit Cove Elementary had told Vieira that he expected to meet the Marine when he returns stateside in a few months.

Jacob and his mother, Nora Hall, were in New York City for the first time. They sat on a couch in front of the country to explain how Jacob, who has learning disabilities, began to appreciate reading and writing through correspondence with the Marine.

“I’d just like to tell Jacob that I’ve heard about all his hard work from his mom, and (to) tell him I’m really proud of everything he’s been doing,” Pineda said through the video feed.

Jacob and Pineda have sent letters, e-mails and packages to each other since last fall, when Hall found the website for Adopt a U.S. Soldier. Jacob’s academic performance has improved as he’s cultivated a relationship with Pineda.

The penpal networks make an impact on the troops’ side, as well, Pineda said.

“For us Marines out here, it means a lot,” he said. “It means there’s people in the United States who still care about their Marines and are thinking about us during this whole Iraq and Afghanistan war.”

On Thursday, Jacob, who’s had a longtime passion for the military, was decked out in camouflage military apparel — much of which was shipped from Pineda in Iraq.

A misty-eyed Hall said the Marine is a hero to her son.

“I want to thank you, sir,” she said. “I’m honored to be able to tell you how much you mean to us and everything you’ve done for my son.”

The segment lasted about seven minutes.

An unforgettable experience
Pineda almost didn’t make it to the airfield, Hall recounted later in a phone interview with the Summit Daily.

“He worked so hard to get where he was because the weather was bad,” she said, adding that Pineda flew to the site by helicopter and didn’t arrive until late Wednesday.

Jacob said he wasn’t nervous about his national TV debut.

“It was cool seeing my penpal,” he said. “I was really excited and surprised.”

For Hall, the experience was a bit overwhelming.

“It was just a whirlwind,” she said. “When they took us into the studio and Meredith came to sit down, I don’t remember what she asked me, what Jake said — I just blacked out.”

The studio was surprisingly small, about twice the size of her living room, she said.

After the airing, Jacob was a bit perturbed not to have been warned about meeting Pineda.

“Jake said something to the effect of: ‘Everybody knew except for me? That’s not fair.’ I said, ‘It was a surprise,’” Hall said. “I think he was shocked. I don’t think he realized what was happening.”

She said the TV monitor displaying Pineda was small, and it was a split-screen with the studio on the other side. Regardless, it was an unforgettable experience.

Hall said they met Olympic athletes in the green room — which, of course, wasn’t green — and stylists did their hair and makeup “which for me was just a fabulous experience.”

The Today Show anchors are rushed from one segment’s location to the next, which made obtaining autographs a bit difficult. But Hall found an assistant who helped.

“(We) had a T-shirt signed for the school, and Matt (Lauer) and Meredith signed that, and then Jake had a little travel log that he had signed,” she said.

Robert Allen can be contacted at (970) 668-4628 or rallen@summitdaily.com.

Ellie