South Fayette student makes it his mission to thank veterans
South Fayette 7-year-old makes it his mission to thank veterans
At just 7 years old, Talon Hoyt is wise beyond his years. While most boys his age are interested in video games and sports, Talon has set his sights on something much bigger – helping veterans.
The South Fayette third-grader’s interest began after he spent Mother’s Day weekend watching WWII documentaries about the Ludendorff Bridge and the Battle of Remagen. The documentaries made such an impression that he decided he needed to thank veterans personally. “I feel both grateful and sad,” Talon remarked. “Grateful because they risked their lives to save our country. Sad because some lost their lives.”
So, Talon went to his mom for help. “He asked if I knew how to introduce him to a WWII veteran, or any veteran, so that he could tell them in person how much he appreciates them risking their lives for our country,” said Kindra Hoyt, who then contacted the VA Hospital to ask about visiting policies. “Once I told Talon I would take him, he immediately thought that he needed to take more than just a simple thank you card.”
“I wanted to give the veterans something to do while they were in the hospital so they weren’t bored all the time,” said Talon. To date, he has collected more than 200 puzzle books and hundreds of other items such as jigsaw puzzles, board games, playing cards and table games. He’s also collected more than 250 thank you cards from various individuals, including members of his class.
Talon and his mom made their first delivery to the VA Hospital in Aspinwall June 24. “It went well and made me feel like a good person,” said Talon. “Some of the veterans were shocked that I was there doing such a nice thing. Most were very happy that they got the stuff I brought.”
Kindra said it was truly an amazing experience. “In the midst of silence on our way to the hospital, Talon told me ‘thank you.’ When I asked him what he was thanking me for, he said he wanted to thank me for letting him watch that very first documentary, because if it weren’t for that he wouldn’t be helping veterans today.”
She added, “With a tear in my eye, I told him that he was very welcome, but he didn’t owe me any thanks – he was doing a great job thanking those who needed to be thanked.”
Talon and his mom have also begun attending the Veterans Breakfast Club, a nonprofit, non-religious and non-political organization. The group’s mission is to create communities of listening around veterans and their stories. The Club was started by historian and author Todd DePastino and Dan Cavanaugh. DePastino had just released a biography on Bill Mauldin, the famous WWII GI cartoonist, and began getting phone calls that very same day from WWII veterans from around the country who wanted to tell their stories. Cavanaugh had been volunteering on the WWII Memorial Bus Trips to Washington, D.C., and was gathering WWII vets to share stories. DePastino decided to join him. “His idea was simple: give a veteran a microphone and trust in what will happen next,” explained DePastino. “That was seven years and 250 storytelling breakfasts ago.”
Talon, DePastino said, is the club’s youngest attendee. “I worried just a little about the mature subject matter that is often shared at our breakfasts, but I also trusted that Talon and our veterans would know how to handle it, and they did.
“Talon is extremely personable and magnetic. He’s not afraid to walk up to a WWII veteran and stick out his hand and introduce himself,” said DePastino. “He’s also very much a kid – curious, funny, irrepressible. I bet he reminds our veterans of themselves when they were that age.”
DePastino, who is executive director of the club, said that the veterans appreciate Talon’s interest in their stories. “Our older veterans especially like that young people care about and remember them.”
Kindra has also gotten involved in the local veterans community. She has completed the paperwork required to begin volunteering at the VA Hospital, and for the No Veteran Dies Alone program, a VA-sponsored program in which volunteers provide companionship and assistance to veterans in hospice care.
Talon and his mom plan to collect activities year-round and make bi-annual donations. Deliveries will be made in the spring on Memorial Day and on Veterans Day in the fall. Thank you cards, however, will be collected and distributed year-round. “We need as many handmade thank you cards as possible ... we don’t like to run out!” said Talon. “We love collecting them, and it’s a good lesson for young people like me to show their appreciation for our veterans.”
But, Talon has even bigger plans. He and his mom are planning a Veterans Ball that will take place Oct. 10. The event will be a fundraiser for five local veterans organizations, including the Veterans Breakfast Club.
“It will be a ’40s-themed ball, complete with a big brass band and tons of entertainment and dancing,” Kindra said, adding that the event will be open to veterans, active duty personnel and the public. “It’s cocktail dress, and service men and women are invited to wear their dress blues or uniforms. It’s going to be absolutely marvelous. ”
Added DePastino, “Talon must have inherited his undaunted and irrepressible attitude from his mother, because Kindra took the idea of a Veterans Ball and ran with it.”
“I think it’s great that Talon wants to be involved with the vets,” remarked Talon’s father, Seth. “It makes me very proud.”
“Talon reminds us of the importance of listening in our social media-saturated culture, where everybody seems to be posting information about themselves but not paying much attention to others,” DePastino said. “Our veterans have inspiring stories to tell, if only we would take the time to listen.”
Talon’s plans don’t stop with honoring the veterans – he wants to enlist in the Army himself someday.
ePastino at firstname.lastname@example.org.