Vietnam War veterans share stories, lessons with Wareham Middle School

Veteran: 'We don't want anyone to forget'
By Lydia Goerner | May 24, 2017
Photo by: Lydia Goerner Dennis Proulx describes daily life as a soldier in the Vietnam War to a group of attentive eighth grade students.

Several white-haired veterans stood in front of the Wareham Middle School library and explained post traumatic stress disorder to a group of rapt eighth graders.

Painful memories, triggers in everyday life and sleepless nights are part of the Vietnam War veterans' daily lives, they said, but even though it is hard, they want to travel to area schools and share their experiences.

“Things like this that we’re doing today...this helps us,” said Hank Mello, the secretary of the Taunton Area Vietnam Veterans Association. “It helps us to get those feelings out there.”

Mello stood in front of the group of 50 students with fellow Vietnam War veterans Dennis Proulx and Chuck Ploeger. The men showed photographs they had taken during the time they spent in Vietnam, shared artifacts they brought home and told stories about their experiences in the war.

The presentation was given to prepare middle school students for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial moving wall, which arrives in August.

Middle school teachers put aside their lesson plans this week and concentrated on helping students understand the Vietnam War, Principal Peter Steedman said.

“We are trying to start the conversation,” Steedman said. “The hope is to have students interested and talking about this at home...you can see that they were all kind of into it.”

Humanities teacher Cynthia Bliss said she took the opportunity to discuss political history with her class. She taught them about the war through discussions, readings and videos. Bliss also gave her students a list of over 430 Vietnam War veterans living in Wareham.

“I wanted kids to understand what it meant and why it’s such an emotional thing,” Bliss said.

Proulx told students it is significant for veterans to be able to touch the moving wall and some make rubbings of the names of those they knew.

Napalm, Agent Orange and bombs were described, but so were more positive aspects the men found.

Proulx, a founding member of the Taunton Area Vietnam Veterans Association, explained the Vietnam War was only the second in American history to be integrated, showing pictures of black and white soldiers working together.

“It didn’t matter what color you were,” Proulx said. “We all have red blood.” The war taught the soldiers how to trust each other despite their differences, he said.

“One of the great things that came out of Vietnam was triage and learning how to take care of people immediately,” Mello said, showing photos of Vietnam War hospitals and patients being treated for severe injuries.

The veterans spoke to three groups of students Wednesday, totaling around 150 eighth graders. Reliving his experiences is difficult and has caused him some sleepless nights, Proulx said.

“It’s very tough,” Proulx said. “But we do this because we don’t want anyone to forget the 58,000 people that died in Vietnam.”

The veterans' efforts have ensured that Wareham Middle School students will be mindful of their history.

Samantha Scully, a middle school student, said hearing about the events from people who lived through them provided a memorable perspective.

“You can see how they thought about it,” Scully said. “It’s different than reading about it from someone who wasn’t even there.”

Scully said she enjoyed seeing photos of the veterans’ daily lives, including how they ate and slept, and imagining what life was like for them.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Moving Wall comes to the Wareham Middle School track this August. Students said hearing from the veterans today piqued their interest in participating further in remembering the war and the roles some in the Wareham community played in it.

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