A few students raised their hand to the wall as they traced the names of various soldiers. The students may not have known any of the soldiers or much about the Vietnam War but on Aug. 27, they wanted to understand.
The wall “puts in perspective how many lives were lost, ” Emily Banken said.
“It’s amazing how many names are on this wall, ” Jacob Balsley said.
“And how many families were affected, ” Caitlin Fjeld said.
The Forest City High School students were part of two education days for area schools as part of Operation LZ in Forest City, Iowa. Operation LZ was Aug. 26-30 in Forest City and on Aug. 27 and 28, students could view the Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall, listen to Vietnam veterans talk about the war and related topics. Operation LZ was an event designed to welcome back Vietnam veterans who didn’t receive a formal welcome when they returned from the controversial war.
“It’s pretty awesome to think they actually get the welcome back they didn’t get when they came home, ” Balsley said.
“It’s really hard to understand what they’ve been through, ” Halle Jo Johnson said of Vietnam veterans.
“It makes it real, ” student Sydney Olson said. “Some of these veterans were our age (when they went into the military). It’s like my brother could leave now and I’d never see him again.”
The veterans told students they lost some of their buddies during the war.
“Over by the wall, a veteran was telling stories about some people that died. It was hard to hear that, ” Christy Mettry said.
Vietnam veterans Steve Newton, the director of VVA Chapter 1071 in Denver, and Ed Rohner, membership chairman of The American Legion in Iowa, want to share their stories.
“Steve and I know it, we lived it, ” Rohner said. “I jump at the opportunity to talk to kids.”
Today’s youth didn’t grow up with the Vietnam War on the TV news, he said. Veterans need to share their stories so that you understand the full history of the war, Rohner said.
“Seeing all the veterans here, I don’t know how to explain it…but seeing all these kids here, I wonder how (veterans) feel, ” Olson said.
“For me, this is cathartic, ” Newton said of seeing the students and talking with them.
For the students, it was living history.
“Everything is real, not like a history lesson, ” Banken said.