LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Nathan Hale, a lieutenant in the Continental Army during the American Revolution, paid the ultimate price for patriotism.
He had volunteered to become a spy, and while doing so, was captured by the British forces, interrogated and was executed.
Although that heroic act of bravery and love of country -- "I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country" -- occurred in 1776, it has left an indelible mark on young Sullivan Maley, a 10-year-old student at Nolan Middle School in Lakewood Ranch, who won first place
in a Patriot's Pen youth essay contest sponsored by the Braden River Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 12055.
"What Nathan Hale did in the revolution was so much more powerful than anyone else because he knew, if he got caught, he would be killed. He made that sacrifice without knowing whether there would be a country or not," Maley said.
The awards presentation, which included two other classmates on Friday morning, was broadcast live on the school's Colt News Network.
Post Commander Dave Daily, who personally delivered engraved VFW plaques to first-place winner Sullivan, along with second- and third-place winners, Cameron Moore, 11, and Taylor Shaklik, 12, respectively, said the essay contest is a great assignment with several important purposes.
"They all need good writing skills these days and it's a wonderful thing to be patriotic, to be proud of your country, to know where your freedoms come from that we take advantage of every day, and to honor those who have served our country in peacetime and in war."
Each year, more than 100,000 middle-school students across the country, in grades 6 through 8, enter the VFW Patriot's Pens essay-writing contest, where one winner is chosen by the national VFW.
Essays must be no less than 300 words and this year's theme was "What Freedom Means to Me."
The Braden River VFW has conducted the Patriot's Pen writing competition for the past several years at Haile Middle School in Lakewood Ranch, and this was the first year the post also partnered with 22 Nolan students from Detra Fipps gifted-elective class, after a parent discovered the program online and suggested the class take part in it.
"Our kids thought the competition was awesome. We do a lot of competitions in this class, but this one was special and very relevant," Fipps said. "They were excited to learn what patriotism is, why they appreciate their veterans, and they felt it was something that mattered."
Daily said the students also received a check for $100 last December, when they initially learned they had won the contest, so they could spend it over the holidays.
The post will be presenting four Haile Middle School students with Patriot's Pen awards in the next several weeks.
For now, Taylor said he has a greater appreciation for veterans, especially those who are willing to go into the military without being drafted.
"I'm thankful for everything they have done and the sacrifices they have made. I enjoy writing in general, and especially for competition, and I could be creative with this one and go with it."
Kathryn Moschella, Lakewood Ranch reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7010. Follow her on Twitter @MoschellaHerald.