By JOHN LAMPERT
Special to the OBSERVER
Back in April, I received an email from a man who said that he was interested in joining my hockey pool. He had heard about it from a relative. That man was Sgt. Jim Helms who was stationed in Iraq at the time. After a few emails back and forth with me, my 11-year-old son Tyler, who has an interest in military history, started asking questions about the sergeant. Soon he and Sgt. Helms were emailing each other as well.
Sgt. Jim Helms and Fredonia Central School student Tyler Lampert shared a common love of hockey, discovered through an exchange of letters.
Learning that Sgt. Helms was from Wellsville - a mere two hours from us in Dunkirk - and an avid Sabres fan, Tyler said he wanted to send him something to make him feel at home. Tyler drew several patriotic pictures and sent them off to Iraq along with a Buffalo Sabres flag. Sgt. Helms sent photos back of him and his troop as well as a picture of him holding the pictures he had received from Tyler.
He explained the history of his troop called the Rough Riders, which was named in honor of Teddy Roosevelt. He further explained how they "hitched" their trucks to a hitching post just like the old days when horses were hitched to a post. Just shy of 20 years of service, Sgt. Helms recently returned from his first deployment in Iraq. The following text was written in an article in the Hornell Evening Tribune about Helms.
"Helms received generous packages not only from family and coworkers (and his St. James cohort always made sure to send enough for the entire company), but even from a boy he had never met in person.
"When Helms received the package from the young sender in Buffalo, he said it reminded him why he does his job. The box was filled with hockey memorabilia, personal drawings and a flag from Helms' favorite team, the Buffalo Sabres. Helms sent back pictures of himself holding up the drawings and flags. It was a small, but meaningful exchange and Helms said he plans to meet the sender when he is in Buffalo again."
That boy he mentioned in the article was my son Tyler. Once he returned home, Sgt. Helms contacted us and said that he wanted to meet Tyler if we could arrange it. That day came, as promised. Sgt. Helms traveled about an hour from his home in Wellsville to Olean where Tyler and his Jamestown Lakers hockey team were scheduled to play.
Tyler made posters that read, "Welcome Home Sgt. Helms." The team posed with the signs in a team picture as well as holding them up on the ice after the game. The audience cheered for the sergeant as Tyler and a few teammates held the signs.
As the game ended, Helms presented Tyler with a pin from his Teddy Roosevelt-style Slouch hat. Later that afternoon during conversation with him, Sgt. Helms also gave Tyler his Drill Sergeant badge right off his uniform. Sgt. Helms plans to attend another one of Tyler's games before the end of the season.
John Lampert is a Dunkirk resident.