What are the odds of entering a contest with 700 entries and being named the winner? They weren’t too big for Yadira Estrada Barajas, a student at Los Banos Junior High School, who was awarded first-place in the VFW District 9 Patriot’s Pen Essay contest.

California VFW District 9 stretches from Los Banos down through Madera, Fresno, Kings and Tulare counties.  All students in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades were eligible to enter the contest.

Patriot’s Pen is a youth essay contest sponsored each year by national Veterans of Foreign Wars. The contest, according to the VFW web site, “encourages young minds to examine America’s history, along with their own experiences in modern American society, by drafting a 300- to 400-word essay, expressing their views based on a patriotic theme chosen by the VFW Commander-in-Chief.”

The Patriot’s Pen essay theme for 2023-24 was “How are you inspired by America?”

Barajas received recognition during the monthly meeting of the Los Banos Veterans on Jan 9 at Veterans Memorial Hall. Attending that meeting were not only members of the Los Banos VFW and Los Banos American Legion, but representatives of VFW District 9, who traveled from Sanger, California.

Coming to Los Banos were Gabe Villasenor, District 9 Youth Services Chairperson; Jim Anderson, District 9 Quartermaster; Alan Hanson, District 9 Past Commander; and Susan Hanson, Vice President District 9 Auxiliary.

The district veterans were pleased to present Barajas not only with a certificate but also with two checks: one for $150 from District 9 and another for $100 from the District 9 Auxiliary.

Also attending were Yadira’s parents and younger sister, as well as her history teacher, Jason Walsh (who encouraged his students to enter the Patriot’s Pen contest), and her principal, Deolinda Brasil.

Dr. Mark Marshall, Los Banos Unified School District Superintendent, and Eric Sowersby, the district’s Director of Elementary Education, also came to honor Barajas. 

Los Banos VFW Commander Mike Hughes congratulated Barajas and acknowledged veteran and retired San Luis High principal John Lupini, who has organized the Patriot’s Pen contest in Los Banos for many years.

This year, according to Lupini, the Los Banos VFW post received 73 entries for this contest from local schools. All of the essays were read by Los Banos veterans, and the best essays were forwarded to the district.

Hughes pointed out that last year Los Banos students also received awards from the district for their Patriot’s Pen essays. “I’m proud that so many Los Banos students write essays for this contest,” Hughes said. “It shows we have many young people here who value their country, its principles and its veterans.”