Photo by Johnny Jackson
Bob Van Dunk, commandant of the Marine Corps League, McDonough Detachment No. 1339, speaks to students at Woodland High School during the school's third annual oral history event, featuring Vietnam veterans.
By Johnny Jackson
Woodland High School, in Stockbridge, hosted its third annual oral history event Friday, featuring area Vietnam veterans.
During the day-long event, a crowd of students was suddenly quieted, seemingly out of reverence and respect for the subject matter, as Hal Dayhuff spoke.
Dayhuff began the oral lessons by first addressing those military veterans confined to hospitals and nursing homes -- veterans, who often have only the few acknowledgments from fellow veterans and other admirers to keep them company in their old age.
Dayhuff, too, is a military veteran, who served in Vietnam -- 1964 and 1965. He was one of eight veterans who took part in Friday's event at Woodland.
The program was designed to provide students in the school's American Literature and U.S. History classes real life, first-hand accounts of the war waged decades ago, said Margaret Duncan, event organizer and a U.S. History teacher at Woodland.
Duncan said some 400 students, most of them juniors, heard from Vietnam veterans, including Dayhuff, learning how and why they served. She said invited speakers included members of the Atlanta Vietnam Veterans Business Association -- Dayhuff, Bob Van Dunk, James Dalton, Pat Will, Russ Vermillion, Cal Posner, Jack Delshaw, and John Anzalone.
The Vietnam veterans, she said, are part of a class that is growing older each day and moving away from current America to American history.
Duncan previously taught at Stockbridge High School, where she would invite World War II veterans to take part in the oral histories. However, she said she has noticed a change within the past decade with high schoolers knowing Vietnam veterans as their parents, aunts, and uncles, to now knowing them as their grandparents.
"A lot of kids, their grandparents are Vietnam vets," Duncan said. "For those kids, Vietnam is ancient."
Duncan said the annual oral history event is an attempt to marry the two classroom lessons and textbook readings, with real-life, first-hand reports of the Vietnam War.
"I'm hoping that they can now say they know an authentic Vietnam veteran story," Duncan said.
Several students said hearing from the veterans Friday taught them more than they knew about the war. They said it also taught them about the nuances of war, and how the military continues to impact their lives. "Being in the Army seems like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, because you'll learn things that will stay with you your whole life," said Dominic Thurston, a junior at Woodland.
Thurston's classmate, junior Hillary Konken, said she comes from a military family and knows a limited history from her family members. "Whenever I ask them about it, they don't really like to talk about it," Konken said. "I think it's because they know me, and they aren't comfortable talking about it with me. This way, I can hear it from someone who doesn't really know me."
Monique Tippit, a junior at the school, said she is intrigued by the stories told about combat, and how that affects veterans mentally. She said she would like to become a military counselor or psychologist to help veterans through the process of dealing with wartime service.
"History needs to be taught more in schools," added John Anzalone, a retired Air Force colonel of 34 years, who served in Vietnam between 1964 and 1965, as a U.S. Navy Medic Dental Technician.
Anzalone believes life-lessons can be learned by studying the first-hand accounts of troops who served in wars. "In 1963, when I joined the service, there was a draft," Anzalone said. "The reason I joined the military is because it gave me discipline, and allowed me to serve my country. We, as soldiers and sailors and airmen, do not implement democracy, we preserve democracy."