The 1960s came alive for students at Clarendon Hills Middle School when American history teacher, Mario Castillo, invited members of Chapter 311 in Des Plaines to share their experiences in Vietnam with students. In addition to their stories, chapter member, Tom Newton, shared many items he’s collected over the years, including a gas mask, padded helmet with goggles, web belt with canteen, flags, hats, a war-time uniform and many other things.
The chapter has been visiting both high schools and middle schools for the past 15 years and Newton has been sharing his stories with students for at least nine years. The chapter members do such a great job that they are invited back year after year and it’s not only beneficial for the students, but for the veterans as well. “We learn from them, and they learn from us, ” said Newton.
The students are shy at first, but after he marches around in costume and directs his recruits, following a mock draft, the students “seem to warm up as they realize we are not really that different than they are; aside from our age differences, ” Newton explained. By the time the veterans are finished speaking the students often huddle around, thanking the vets for their service and some even offering hugs. “I find it to be a rewarding and positive experience to pay back information to the students, ” said Newton.