What is the significance of the telegram that arrives in February in The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt?

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In Gary Schmidt's The Wednesday Wars, Holling Hoodhood is a seventh-grader at Camillo Junior High School. His teacher is Mrs. Baker, and at the beginning of the school year her husband is sent to Vietnam. Though the story is set primarily in a peaceful setting, there is the undercurrent of war both in the classroom and in Holling's home. 

At school, a telegram sent to a teacher during this time is generally not going to bring good news, and we already saw that once, in November, when Mrs. Bigio, the school's cook, received the heartbreaking news (via telegram) that her husband, who had been missing, has been found but is dead. Holling saw Mrs. Bigio's grief and was moved by it. 

Now it is February, and Mrs. Baker gets a telegram. It is short but devastating:

DOWNED HELICOPTER TRANSPORT STOP KHENSANH STOP LT T BAKER MISSING IN ACTION STOP

This telegram delivers the horrible news to Mrs. Betty Baker that her husband is missing in action after a helicopter somehow went down. This telegram is delivered at the end of the chapter so we do not get her reaction, but we can imagine what she must have felt and how she must have reacted. We do know that the news does not deter her from teaching as always.

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