What started as a fun geography lesson in kindergarten has turned into a heart-warming story that is touching the heart of a nation -- one that has now been picked up by Access Hollywood. The story is expected to air tonight. Check your local listings for time and channels or view it online on the Access Hollowood website.
On Friday, the eight seniors of David Emanuel Academy had a special surprise visitor, Army Brigadier General Vincent Buggs.
The General holds a special bond with the class, one that began when the youngsters were in the K-5 program under teacher Michelle Lamm.
Lamm had started a tradition with her kindergarteners, having them attempt to locate the Gingerbread Man from parts unknown.
Families of students were asked to reach out to friends and family who live outside the area and have them mail the school with a story of spotting the Gingerbread Man somewhere in their community. It was a fun way for the kids to learn geography while finding out where some of their friends and families live.
One student, Jenna Mosley, has an aunt, Melanie Mosley, who worked at Georgia Southern Alumni Center. When Buggs, an alumnus of Georgia Southern, was stationed in Iraq in the early 2000s during one of three tours, he contacted the Alumni Center. Melanie asked if he would be interested in writing of a Gingerbread Man sighting for the class.
Buggs got into character and told the youngsters how the Gingerbread Man had stolen a camel’s water, using that as an opportunity to explain how important water is in that region and how high the temperatures get.
Buggs, who was a Major at the time, then contacted the Alumni Center again, getting information from Jenna’s aunt about the class and having flags flown in Iraq for each student. He then had the flags sent to the class, along with certificates authenticating that they had flown over Iraqi headquarters.
A pen-pal relationship started with the soldier and the class, one that spanned the students’ school careers. The students would send care packages and letters and Buggs would send notes and treats from wherever he was stationed around the world.
In January of this year, Buggs wrote a letter to the editor addressed to the class that had made such an impact on him.
“I realize all of you are now grown up and have moved on with your lives,” he wrote. “However, I wanted you to know there is a warrior who will never forget you.”
This past weekend, two key events took place that allowed Buggs to actually stop by the Stillmore school and meet the students who had come to mean so much to him.
While traveling to Statesboro for Georgia Southern’s Alumni Weekend, he planned a detour to Stillmore on what happened to be Senior Day at the school.
“I was so surprised and excited to meet him in person for the very first time,” said Senior Tatum Taylor, who was part of that original kindergarten class. “I am so grateful he came and for the great advice he gave us for our future lives.” Those plans included not saying “I hope,” but instead saying “I will.”
In addition to Tatum, original members of the class who remain at DEA are Boslie Booth, Jenna Mosley, Ethan Wells and Skyler Sikes. Other class members, Maddux Bedgood, Hannah Jackson and Maci Nease, came to know the Soldier in the years that followed. Former teacher Michelle Lamm was also in on the surprise visit and returned to the school to greet Buggs.
A Tweet from Buggs about his plan to visit with the students was picked up by an ABC News reporter and was featured on GoodMorningAmerica.com. Before long, a Fox affiliate got wind of what was happening and now Southern Living has also contacted the school.
So many lives impacted ... and it all began when the Gingerbread Man stole a camel’s water!