Panel of Vietnam veterans shares stories with social studies classes

It was not a normal class period today for the social studies department, as students headed to the Performing Arts Center to hear a presentation from the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 1008, and have an opportunity to ask questions and engage in discussion. The veterans were at L-S all day, giving students with social studies classes in any of the four periods an opportunity to participate.

Veterans from the panel discuss various aspects of the Vietnam War
Ten veterans representing four branches of the armed services came to speak, each sharing their personal experiences, some of which included combat, while others of which were in supporting roles. After brief opening introductions from each veteran, the floor was opened for a question/answer time; in some classes, students had questions prepared in advance, while in others, students generated their questions in the moment.

A poignant moment came when the tables were turned, and the veterans asked students if they had visited "the wall" -- the memorial in Washington D.C. where the names of the 58,479 soldiers who died in the conflict are enshrined. They shared that the youngest service member killed was just 15 years old, younger than many of the students in the room.

Questions probed topics from the terrain and geography of Vietnam to the weight of the gear soldiers carried to a broader, more philosophical discussion on the war as a whole, to which Naval veteran Bob Ruble said America needs to remember to "separate the war from the warriors."

A particularly unique story is that of Alberto Ros, an Army veteran. He emigrated from Cuba, and almost immediately signed up to join the armed services. He served in Vietnam, and upon returning home, was granted American citizenship.

"I'm proud to be an American," he says.

Army veteran Alberto Ros
Ros also highlighted that several of the panelists still deal with adverse health effects from the war, including exposure to Agent Orange, which another veteran shared has given him cancer.

Overall, students seemed to appreciate the veterans coming in to share.

"I liked how they were all engaged," says sophomore Matt Rhoades, a student in Ms. Lauren Bozart's American Government class. "They wanted to tell their stories. I learned how much the country has changed."

Ken Ford, a veteran Marine, says that the panel comes to about 10 schools each year, including most of Lancaster County's high schools. He stresses that it is a two-way conversation, that the veterans learn as much from the students as the students learn from them; both sides see another perspective on the War.

And it is that dialogue that engaged Rachel Marcroft, a freshman in Mr. Hudson's American Cultures class.

"It was good to see different perspectives from textbooks and what people actually experienced," she says.

This was the panel's third visit to Lampeter-Strasburg in the past two years. When he worked at Conestoga Valley, assistant principal Dr. Ben Feeney had experience with the group, so he was instrumental in bringing them to L-S the first time.
About 125 students at a time (about five classes) heard from
the panel
Now, it is a departmental effort that is valuable to students taking a variety of classes.

Mrs. Lindsay Shehan says that her World Cultures class just finished studying East Asia, so they were able to ask enrich their knowledge of that culture and the geography there.

Mr. Hudson says that currently his class is studying the Cold War, and will come to Vietnam next, so this panel can provide valuable background around which to frame their future study.

AP United States History, American Government, Local History, Intro to Law, and Sociology classes also heard from the panel, each bringing and taking something unique.

After all, that is the essence of social studies.

For more images, see our gallery, with photos from Benjamin Pontz

--Benjamin Pontz, Editor-In-Chief

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