ROXBURY, NJ - When Pennsylvania National Guard Cpt. Joe McLaughlin visited youngsters at the Franklin Elementary School aftercare program this week, it wasn’t his first interaction with the kids.

The children and McLaughlin had been pen-pals during the captain’s 9-month-long deployment in Kuwait which ended Nov. 18. He said his main reason for visiting the pupils was to thank them for the letters.

“That was pretty much the most important part,” said the former 30-year-old former Succasunna resident. “They wanted to say thank you to me for serving overseas and I wanted to say thank you for remembering me.”

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McLaughlin graduated Roxbury High School in 2006 and went on to graduate from Rochester Institute of Technology in 2010. He received a master’s degree from the Naval Postgraduate School in 2015 and now – in addition to serving in the National Guard – works at Picatinny Arsenal as a civilian software engineer.

In an interview (that took place on Pearl Harbor Day), McLaughlin noted he was particularly touched by the fact that the kindergarten-through-fourth-grade pupils all knew the words to The National Anthem and sang it with him during his visit to the school. They also set-up an American flag, he said.

“I thought it was cool, and it’s good to know that kids from my hometown are patriotic,” said McLaughlin, who now lives in Allamuchy.

The visit to the school was arranged by Anita Fehsal, who works at the after-school program and is a member of the Kenvil VFW Post 2833 Auxiliary. “I love to have the children write to soldiers because of all the things soldiers do for our freedom,” Fehsal said. “It’s important the children understand that.”

McLaughlin’s mother, Caye, is president of the VFW post auxiliary.