By Donna Miles
WASHINGTON, Sept. 13, 2006 – A 17-year-old Los Angeles boy likes the sentiment of the old song about tying a yellow ribbon 'round the old oak tree to remember someone who's away from home. But Matthew Cook is taking the idea a step -- make that a mile -- further.
The high school senior is traveling the country, collecting young people's signatures on a yellow ribbon that will ultimately stretch a full mile long. He's arranged for Federal Express to ship what will by then be a 450-pound bolt of fabric to Iraq sometime around Veterans Day.
There, Cook hopes deployed troops will cut some of the 10,000 signatures he expects to collect from the fabric -- "each one symbolizing a young American's heart" -- and fashion them into yellow ribbons to wear on their uniforms until they come home.
An Eagle Scout and inspirational speaker, Cook said it's important for young people to realize the price of the freedoms they enjoy. "I saw a need for kids to understand that the corollary of freedom is individual responsibility," he said. "If our soldiers are willing to go to battle and die for freedom, here at home we have to be willing to live up to it by making the right decisions in our everyday lives."
He said signing the yellow ribbon helps encourage young people to think about and discuss what freedom means to them. "It's been so gratifying to see how many kids are willing to step up to the plate and prove just how much it does mean to them," he said.
Cook and a team he's assembled travel the country, collecting signatures on bolts of yellow fabric wherever they go. "The ribbon has been to parks, museums, schools, expos, all kinds of places where there are a lot of young people 18 and below," he said.
Today he plans to take a section of ribbon to the steps of the U.S. Capitol to collect additional signatures. Once all the signatures are collected, the ribbon sections will be sewn together into a single, mile-long swath to be packed in a crate for shipment to Iraq.
Cook said he hopes the mile-long ribbon project sends a message to troops who sacrifice for the country. "The young people of America have a message, and it is: We support you. We support our troops, and we are grateful to the military," he said.
Cook said he's impressed that America's armed forces do far more than simply what's required of them. "They go above and beyond to protect our freedom," he said. "And that is what this yellow ribbon symbolizes -- going the extra mile to protect freedom."