In the letter, Will thanked the troops for fighting for their country.
“I am so happy that you work so hard to keep our country safe,” Will wrote. “This country is free, thanks to you and all you do.”
Will died the night of Oct. 27 when he was struck by a car while crossing Newnan Street in downtown Carrollton. The third grader’s letter to the troops, written as part of an Oak Mountain Academy project organized by senior student Lauren Cryder, had not yet been delivered. When it was mailed along with the others, Will’s letter also included a funeral card and a note explaining his death.
The men and women in the 333rd Military Police Brigade were touched by the outcome of the tragic incident — which police have ruled to be an accident — and decided to fly a flag in Will’s memory over their encampment.
The brigade, based in Long Island, N.Y., and currently serving in Afghanistan, received Will’s letter and notification of his death about a month after he’d sat down with his mother, Ali, and wrote the words.
Cindy Gillham of Oak Mountain Academy received a phone call and then a letter from Capt. Michael Cram.
“As I told you on the phone, we received letters from your school around Thanksgiving,” Cram wrote. “I was fortunate to get one from Will Garrett. Attached was his funeral card and a note as to his untimely passing. Myself and my colleagues were deeply touched by the situation. So we decided to fly a flag over our base in his memory.”
Cram wrote to Gillham that his unit had a flag, a certificate of dedication and a framed picture of the troops with the boy’s flag.
“We would like to send these items along with the letter Will wrote to us back to his family,” he wrote.
The Garretts received the package from the 333rd Military Police Brigade this week.
“It’s really touching, just knowing what they’re doing and facing every day in Afghanistan,” said Will’s father, Joe Garrett. “Just to take that time when we can only imagine how busy they are defending our country. It’s very touching.”
The boy’s story has also touched many others across the nation, thanks to a syndicated radio show that picked up on the story after a call from Cryder.
The high school senior wrote to the Bert Show, a syndicated radio program aired locally on Q100, which started a program a couple of years ago encouraging listeners to write letters to troops, called the Big Thank You. It was the Big Thank You program that Cryder was organizing for Oak Mountain Academy, with more than 400 letters sent overseas via the radio show.
“It was a really moving experience, however, I never knew it would touch as many people as it did,” Cryder wrote the show. “It was a tragedy that still brings me to tears daily.”
Cryder told the personalities on the show that she gave the original letter to Will’s mother, but also made 25 color copies of the letter and wrote on the back of each one his story before attaching the child’s obituary.
“Because I knew she would want it, I gave it to his mother, but I knew Will would want me to send that letter,” Cryder wrote.
Students in every grade level wrote a letter, as part of a community service project for Key Club, which does similar projects throughout the year.
“It was a nice tribute to Will, who was an incredible young man,” said Rhyne Owenby, director of development and marketing for OMA.
Bert Weiss, host of the show, said the story was “some pretty powerful stuff” and that it “tore everyone up” when they read Cryder’s letter.
“I’ve never been in the military, and I’m not sure exactly what the honor of having a flag flown for you is, but I’m assuming it’s a very, very high honor,” Weiss said earlier this month.
Joe Garrett heard the radio broadcast with Cryder’s letter, and wrote into the show himself.
“Thank you so much for honoring my son Will Garrett on this morning’s broadcast,” Garrett wrote. “It’s such an incredible response for our troops serving overseas to fly a flag in honor of his life. I appreciate you sharing this story with your listeners. ... Thank you for keeping his legacy alive.”
Garrett said the outpouring of support from the military and the radio show “came out of nowhere,” but that it was just a part of the large amount of support his family has received in the past two months.
“This community has been wonderful,” Garrett said. “It’s unbelievable how hard it’s been. It’s not a club anyone wants to be a part of, I can assure you.”