NEWTOWN >> In an experience senior Julia Bochenek called “amazing,” students from Council Rock High School North had the chance to sit down to breakfast on Nov. 10 with local veterans in a one-on-one learning event they won’t soon forget.
Hanging on their every word, the kids listened as local veterans shared stories of the war, from the thick juggles of Vietnam to the mountainous battles of Italy.
From one end of the room to the other, the cafeteria buzzed with conversations as students asked questions and local veterans shared their stories with the young people during a Veterans Day Breakfast organized by Kappa Rho, the school’s social studies honor society, and Newtown American Legion Post 440.
Social studies teacher Don Foster, who helped organize the event, said it was exciting to watch the interaction taking place between the students and veterans, calling the experience “priceless.
“This is our way of honoring the veterans, thanking them for their service and conversely, but equally important, it gives the kids an opportunity to experience and learn about history from a primary source as it really happened. These men did it. These women did it. They were there,” he said.
“It’s bringing history to life for them. It’s just amazing and something very special.”
At one table, students listened and asked questions as Past American Legion Commander Ed Hackett told about his service in Vietnam, including being “drafted” due to his small stature to search enemy tunnels.
At the other end of the cafeteria, World War II veteran Weldon Storey, a native of Lumberton, N.J., who now resides at Friends Village in Newtown, brought a scrapbook documenting his years in the service.
Student Nick Nucero listened intently as the 97 year old shared stories of his service with the 10th Mountain Division, which fought in the mountains of Italy in some of the roughest terrain in the country. They earned the nickname, “World War II’s Ski Troops.”
Crossing the Po River in a boat using rifles for paddles, Weldon was wounded and pulled off the line on the last day of the war.
At the other end of the cafeteria, U.S. Air Force veteran Norman Moorhead of Newtown spoke about his service during the Vietnam War and how the veterans were treated when they returned home.
Moorhead served in the U.S. Air Force from 1963 to 1967. Some of that time was spent at Naha Air Force Base in Okinawa, Japan. The base was the major support during the Vietnam War.
After the war in 1968, he joined the Newtown Township Police Department where he served until his retirement in 2008 after 40 years with the force.
Students Julia Bochenek and Aleena Somy enjoyed not only hearing about Moorhead’s service, but also stories about old Newtown.
He told the students about the sprawling farms that once made up the township and rounding up cows loose on Route 332.
Punctuating the event was a short ceremony that included incredible remarks delivered by a former United States Army nurse, which set the tone for the experience.
Captain Lynn O’Brien, of Holland, spoke about the soldiers she cared for while stationed at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Washington, D.C., during the Vietnam War, and the importance of leaving no one behind.
A native of Pottsville, Captain O’Brien served proudly in the Army Nurse Corps from 1965-1972 - “the seven most important years of my life,” she said.
“And as an old army nurse I’d be the first one to sign up again,” she said.
Inspired by the words of President John F. Kennedy, “Ask not what the country can do for you, but what you can do for the country,” she joined the Army Nursing Corps in 1965.
“It was the mid-1960s. Vietnam was beginning to escalate. My high school classmates were being drafted and in the paper was a little article that they were in need of more Army nurses.”
She stopped by the local recruitment office and heard about a program designed for people interested in a career in nursing. The program would send you to school and then you would live and train at Walter Reed.
“Good training, I thought. So I applied and one morning in May a telegram came to the house from the Surgeon General of the United States saying that I had been accepted into the program as a future Army nurse,” she said.
“People asked me, ‘What are you doing?’ I said that I could serve, too. This is what my calling can be - to serve my country.”
O’Brien told the Council Rock students that in September of that year she raised her hand and swore to protect and defend the Constitution. “What I did not know on that day in September but came to find out and it became my life’s commitment was a solemn promise I took, as all of my brothers and sisters did, to leave no one behind.”
She spoke of Medal of Honor winner Captain Gary Rose, an Army corpsman during Vietnam, who was honored for “going back nine times to get his brothers off the field. And stayed with them until that helicopter came and took them. And he said, ‘I’m no hero. I did what was needed.’ He spoke for all of us.”
“People ask me what did you learn in the army? I learned how to shoot a gun. I learned how to set up a Mash Hospital in under two hours. I learned how to do a tracheotomy on a goat. Not too many transferable civilian skills,” she said to laughter from the students and adults.
“But more importantly I learned to leave no one behind.”
While working at Walter Reed, she took the “no one” out of that sentence and replaced it with a name. “I made my commitment that I would know every patient’s name and would call them by name. They were not the double amputee in bed 10 or the brain injury in room 14. They were Joe and Jack and Jim, brothers and cousins and sons and husbands. And we stayed with them ... when they couldn’t close their eyes because all they remember is incoming mortar or rolling thunder (constant bombs going off).
“Do I remember their names now? Yes,” she said. “Can I see their faces today, yes.
“What has stayed with me in my 47 year nursing career is that commitment to leave no John, Jack, Charlie behind. People many times can be wounded not just in the body, but in the spirit ... I learned that a kind word, a pleasant entry into a conversation, the touch of a hand, an outreach to another person means I’m lifting you up. I may not have the physical ability as my brothers did on the battlefield to lift up their brothers and carry them home or to a safe place, but I can lift them up in a different way. I can lift them up with that kind word.
“I never had the use of doing a tracheotomy on a goat,” she said. “But knowing a person’s name was always something that was important,” she said.
When her son was attending college in Georgetown, O’Brien said she would ocassionally visit him on weekends and together they’d do some sightseeing in the nation’s capital.
On one of those visits, they stopped at the Vietnam Memorial inscribed with the names of more than 58,000 men and women who died in the war.
“We were walking along when my son says to me, ‘Mom, do you know any of these names?’ Do I know any? Wow. There’s not a block to go by that I don’t recognize a name, that I don’t say I know that person, I touched their hands, I gave them good care. When you go to big cities, war memorials are all over. But what is the Vietnam Memorial? Names. 58,000 plus names that we remember.”