Vietnam Veterans Visit Tenafly High School


Alessandra Bontia, Staff Writer

On April 11, 2019, three Vietnam War veterans visited THS. They came to speak to students about their experience in the war and the lifelong effects it had on them. With only a few artifacts, pictures, and words to share about their service, these veterans left a lasting impact on the students of Tenafly High School.

Mrs. Malanka, an English teacher at THS, organized the entire event. Just weeks before, she and her War and Literature class raised money for the survivors of the Vietnam War by selling bracelets imprinted with “Vietnam Veterans / We Will Never Forget.”

The veterans spoke during periods one, three, and five, with different veterans sharing their own personal experiences in the war. They all seemed to have similar goals, though, in sharing their stories.

“My goal was to let students know how horrible war is and see how terrible it is and how veterans considered themselves brothers,” said Frank Dunn, a retired U.S. History Teacher and volunteer tour guide at the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The students were shown photos that were taken directly by one of the speakers in Vietnam and allowed to hold artifacts from the war such as bucket hats and a tactical vest.

The event allowed students to learn about more than just a soldier’s war experience, though. A few of the veterans discussed the real problems they faced due to their service, which actually came after their time in Vietnam. “I wanted to let them know about veterans’ guilt,” said Dunn. “If I had helped him, I might not be here. At the same time, why did I make it and he didn’t?”

“I think it’s important to hear stories of earlier generations and to carry them to the future generations of students,” said Ms. Malanka. “Sometimes this means that we have to talk about difficult and painful things that have happened, but are very, very human. It can be uncomfortable, but it’s important.”

As for what they want going forward, the gratitude that veterans are shown means more than people think it does. “For me, it’s not to talk about myself,” said Mike Sapara. “It’s to talk about my classmates. Freedom is not free, and this is my way of giving back because I’m grateful I survived. When someone thanks me, I say it was my privilege and an honor to protect your freedom.”

If you would like to learn more about the individual experience different veterans endured, visit the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Holmdel, NJ.