11-year-old wins national essay contest

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Entering a local school essay contest turned into a national win for an 11-year-old Wantagh resident, when he won first place in the competition for both the Daughters of the American Revolution’s (D.A.R.) Jerusalem Chapter and the New York State Organization as a whole.

Ryan Tullo, a fifth-grader at Forest Lake Elementary School, entered the D.A.R. Flag of the U.S.A. essay contest through his school, during the 2018-19 school year, according to his mother, Emily Tullo. All the essays were submitted to the D.A.R.‘s New York State Organization to be reviewed, before Ryan was chosen as the Jerusalem Chapter winner, and then the state winner. He and his family were informed of the win March 17.

Ryan was recognized in a ceremony at the Wantagh Public Library on May 10.

The essay question asked the writers what the American flag means to them, and Ryan choose to write about his great-grandmother — a pilot during World War II.

Emily Tullo’s grandmother, on her mother’s side, Margaret Werber Gilman, was a pilot with the Women Airforce Service Pilots (W.A.S.P.). “She was vey close with Ryan,” she said. “She used to tell him stories about her flying experiences and a lot about the American Flag, because it was very important to her.”

Gilman, who passed away on May 29, 2014, at age 90, would tell Ryan about how the flag was sewn, and the importance of each stitch. “She used to tell him these elaborate stories that he remembered,” she said. “So when he got the essay, he [said] ‘I’m going to write [about] that.’”

Ryan said when he found out he won he was “so excited.”

“My mom told me that I won, and I [could not] believe I got first place,” he said.

Ryan said his great-grandmother is very special to him. “She used to tell me how the flag was made… and [that] each stitch is important, just like all the people in the United States,” he said.

Tullo recounted some of Gilman’s exploits as a pilot. “They would fly the planes when they came out of the factories to make sure they were safe for the men,” she said, about the women pilots. “They used to tow targets, so the men could practice shooting at the targets. It was just a great thing, because women didn’t do that. It was unheard of at that time.”

Tullo said as Gilman got older, she developed dementia — a decline in mental ability — which turned into Alzehimer’s— a type of dementia that causes behavior, memory and cognitive problems, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. “The only thing she remembered was that period of time,” she said. “It was incredible. She would speak about it as if she was in her 20s, and so that’s why Ryan really remembers those stories the most, because she would tell them in such detail.”

When Gilman was in her 80s, she was recognized for her service by receiving a Congressional Gold Medal from then President Barack Obama, according to Tullo. “We all went down to Washington, and they gave not only my grandmother, but other women who were in the Air Force, Congressional medals,” she said.

Gilman was also honored with an exhibit, which included other W.A.S.P.s, at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City.