When I was in high school I had the best history teacher. He was passionate about the subject and a genuinely good person. He was a Veteran of the
Vietnam Conflict and he taught a semester elective course on the history of the war. Because he was such a stellar teacher, I took the course. I grew
up with documentaries and movies on all wars, but my dad was especially fond of those pertaining to the Vietnam War. Maybe it was because my
grandfather, his father, was a veteran of that war, after Korea and WW2. He served 3 tours in Vietnam. He had nightmares of being in foxholes. Beyond
that, I have no idea what my grandfather's experiences entailed, as he wouldn't talk about it. As a young person, I didn't quite understand that. I
mean, sure it was horrific. I had watched Saving Private Ryan, Hamburger Hill and many more (along with Ken Burns Civil War docuseries, which was
always watched when PBS aired it). But I wasn't until I took the class that I began to really understand the horrors that may have plagued my
We learned about the political climate and the situations that lead up to the war. I really don't recall much. I was once fairly educated, for my
age, on the conflict. But time has faded a lot. We were all assigned a Veteran to write a piece on. I was assigned a woman who had been a Top Secret
stenographer. I can't even recall her name. We made a book of all our writings, and I recently stumbled upon it. I was super stoked, as I hadn't
read it since I submitted it over 15 years ago. Bummer though, as my teacher must have given me the previous year's compilation and I have no idea if
I will ever find my classes' edition anywhere. I do recall the lady telling me she knew for a fact that the war could have been over much sooner.
She claimed to have been exposed to Agent Orange, which had not only seriously affected her health, but her daughter and grandchildren as well. I
believe she had dealt with cancer, among other things.
The last day of class, Mr. B took us outside to share with us his war stories. He was drafted into the army, which wasn't something he wanted. He
went through training but fell ill just prior to graduation, having him finish with the class that came after him. If he had graduated with the group
he went through training with, he'd have ended up stationed in Europe. However, the group he ended up with was deployed to Vietnam, much to his
disappointment. The class heard some truly horrific stories about a buddy that was blinded by shrapnel. Mr. B talked about how beautiful the fella's
eyes were, the most striking blue. He told us about how he usually drove when they went out on patrol, but the one day he didn't, his buddy who drove
was killed by enemy fire. He said he carried guilt because, "That should have been me". And the worst story, the one that will stick with me
forever, involved his Sargent (or maybe Lieutenant? I can't recall- though I do remember his name, however I won't use it, as I would hate for this
story to ever, in the off chance, get back to his wife or children). The guy, I'll call him Sargent D, had met a local woman and they had had
children. When it was time for them to deploy, Sargent D said he was going to see her. Mr. B and the others begged him not to, as it was a hot area.
He insisted. And when he didn't return they went to find him. WARNING
This part is pretty rough, so don't read on if you are easily
They found Sargent D- impaled on a stake, and flayed. His tongue and genitals had been cut off. And he was still alive. I think he had made it to his
wife, but on the way back was caught. They promised to make sure his wife and kids got out of the country, and ended his suffering. Mr. B said they
were able to get his family to the States, but they never told them the truth about what happened to their husband/father, understandably. After
hearing the few stories Mr. B shared, I understood why my grandfather never talked about his experiences in war. Having served in 3 wars, I can't
imagine the things he may have been witness to or participated in.
Mr. B said he came back ruined, and he credited his wife as an angel, who stood by him and helped him through his darkest times.
A friend texted me last night to tell me that Mr. B had passed away. I knew he had been battling cancer. When I still had Facebook, I had reconnected
with him. That was well over 3 years ago, and I shouldn't have been surprised to hear the news of his passing. I don't live nearby, so I won't be
able to attend any kind of memorial for him. But I will always remember him as one of the best instructors I had the privilege of learning under. A
lot of teachers get burnt out in their later years, they lack enthusiasm for the subject and have little compassion for the students. I totally
understand how that could happen (one reason I would never want to be a school teacher). Not Mr. B- he was full of life and loved his students. I
can't imagine the number of lives he touched over the course of his career. His class on the Vietnam War is one of the few classes I remember well.
This is my memorial to him and the service he provided our country and the students he served in the class room.
Thanks for reading.