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Beyond the Books: first grader gives gift of joy to veterans at Iowa City VA

The flags outside the Iowa City VA Health Care System weren't the only welcome sight for veterans on Memorial Day.

The Iowa City VA Health Care System provides services for nearly 200,000 veterans, and on Memorial Day, the medical center opened its doors to first grader on a mission.

Aiden Watkins, 7, walks the halls of the VA, on a floor-to-floor, room-to-room journey to hand out hand-drawn pictures to former fighters.

With each veteran he gives a custom drawing and artificial floral arrangement to, he receives a smile and a message of gratitude in return.

The interactions span minutes, with Aiden and soldiers, sailors, and airmen exchanging conversation about their interests -- fishing for Aiden, video games for one former military member -- and Aiden explains why he stopped by.

"I'm giving pictures and flowers out because it's Memorial Day and I want to be thoughtful and kind," said the Clear Creek Elementary student.

Aiden's mother, Michele, assumed the idea was inspired by a classroom conversation.

"Nope," she remarked, adding, "He came up with it on his own."

Uncertain of the idea's origin, Michele said she is so thankful her son can be so thoughtful.

As are the veteran recipients of his gifts, among the most valued being his time and courage.

"You're a brave little man," said one veteran. "I wouldn't want to come in here with me... You just made my day. And I wish there was more people like you that appreciated the vets, you know?"

Another looks Aiden up and down before asking, "How old are you -- 17?"

Aiden mentions to all of the veterans his plans to reel in big fish this summer, and each offers words of encouragement and wishes of luck.

"You catch a lot of fish there," said one veteran as Aiden departs.

A former Army officer is brought to tears.

"They tell us vets, 'Thank you for your service,'" said the man, looking at Aiden. "Thank you for your service, because you're already a little G.I. to me."


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