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Thomas wins ambassador scholarship contest
South Kitsap resident Aaron Thomas was the winner in the 2014 Bremerton Central Lions Armed Forces Festival Ambassador Scholarship Program held May 7 at the U.S. Naval Undersea Museum Auditorium in Keyport.
Thomas, who was among 25 contestants, received a $1,500 scholarship and an additional $100 for bringing the most people to the event with 27. He will be the 66th ambassador for the Bremerton Armed Forces Parade Program on May 17 in Bremerton.
Each contestant had to write a short essay on “What Freedom Means To Me?” and give a speech about an interview with a military veteran and what they learned.
Thomas interviewed two veterans from Poulsbo in March — Commander Fred Scheffler and historian Jim Walkowski — both of the American Legion Colin Hyde Post 172 in Bainbridge Island.
“My feelings about winning the award — shock, ecstatic and amazed,” said Thomas. “Without the help of two amazing veterans, this wouldn’t be possible. It’s their story and I was humbled to tell it. I can’t begin to express the gratitude and pride I felt as I told the stories of Fred and Jim.”
Veterans recall military duty
Thomas told about Scheffler’s two tours during the Vietnam War. During his first deployment, the Army ranger was in charge of Maycon Delta composed of seven Americans and 327 Vietnamese soldiers. He was injured from a mine and sent back to the U.S. He later returned as commander of a scout troop from Fort Knox.
He said Scheffler recalled one day using a HAM radio where he was connected to Barry Goldwater, then spoke to his wife. She informed him that he was going to be a father of a baby girl. As mortor rained down on the camp, he told her he love her, hung up and found cover.
Thomas spoke about Walkowski, a Michigan native, enlisted in the Navy in 1963 and was a supply officer. After 14 months on the USS Jupiter, he returned to San Diego and became an instructor for the Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) program that helped to train pilots and airman how to survive if they were captured by the enemy. One of those was former presidential candidate, Sen. John McCain.
Walkowski told Thomas that his religion helped him during his military service.
“If there is anything we should learn from my interviews, it is that on any day there will always be one thing in life that no one can take away from you — whether it be physical, mental of spiritual,” Thomas said in his speech. “As well as that we always treasure our family, no matter the distance, even if we are bonded by simply friendship or blood.”
On May 20, Thomas will appear at the Bremerton Chamber luncheon at the Gold Mountain Golf Course in Gorst. On May 17, he will start off the day at the Bremerton Lions Club Breakfast at 7:30 a.m., then will ride on top of a 1930s Navy League fire truck from 10 a.m. to noon. He concludes the day with the Navy League Gala at the Admiral Theatre from 5-9 p.m.
Thomas is a senior at Peninsula High School in Purdy and was the 2013 Fathoms o’ Fun king. He was sponsored by Kitsap Bank and also participates in Running Start at Tacoma Community College.
He is the son of Mark and Tonya Traylor.
Other contestants who placed were:
• Rowan Catel, second-place winner of a $1,000 scholarship, was sponsored by Liberty Bay Bank and is a student at Olympic College in Bremerton.
• Ilene Winkley, third-place winner of a $750 scholarship, also won $100 for the best-written short essay. She was sponsored by Costco and is a senior at Bremerton High School.
• Beau West, fourth-place winner of a $500 scholarship, was sponsored by Navy Federal Credit Union and is a senior at Bremerton High School.
• Claire Cabacungan, fifth-place winner of a $250 scholarship, was sponsored by Kitsap Credit Union and is a student at University of Washington.
The Armed Forces Festival Queens Pageant was converted to the Armed Forces Festival Ambassador’s Program in 2002. It was determined that this scholarship opportunity should be available to both male and female contestants. Since 2002, the event has provided scholarships to 63 young adults from Kitsap County, more than $40,000 in scholarship has been awarded in the past nine years and the audience for the final event has grown every year, from 35 to more than 150.