May 4, 2023
WASHINGTON TWP. — The mission for members of American Veterans Association of Washington Township Post 1776 was to deploy to Long Valley Middle School, engage its students, and talk to them about their experiences in the armed forces.
Judging from their work on Thursday, May 4, their mission was accomplished.
The eighth grade classes spent as many as two hours with three groups of four or five veterans who talked about their military life and their different experiences both in the United States and overseas.
“It’s very important,’’ said Post Commander Thomas McBride, a former Navy officer. “I’m not sure that they get all the insight we have in school. Fortunately the superintendent and the school board invite us every year, twice a year, Memorial Day and Veterans Day to come to the schools and talk to the kids and tell them about our experiences and answer any questions they might have.’’
It was the first time the veterans came to the Long Valley Middle School for a visit since 2019 and some of the students may have been unaware of past presentations. This year, they visited during state testing week, so their presence did break up the day for some of the students.
“They (kids) love having them come visit and the guys love talking to them,’’ said teacher Christa Smith. “It’s good for them to hear from the veterans about experiences and hear from the different branches (of the armed forces) as well. We also turn it into a community service project. This year they have been bringing in donations for the veterans home.
Not all the questions were about combat, a subject the veterans that did see action usually don’t like to dwell on. One eighth grade girl asked one of the groups if they ever had a “crush’’ while serving. The veterans told her that women didn’t serve prominently in the military then. Chuck Dauchert, a veteran of Vietnam, did inform her what a “Dear John’’ letter was and how soldiers usually recognized when somebody got one and how his comrades would give him support.
The veterans also emphasized how most of them learned skills in the military that helped to benefit them when they came home along with intangibles of discipline and confidence. Some of them still are friends with comrades they met in the service. They also talked about places around the world that the military took them that they would have never visited otherwise or having experiences such as riding a camel if they had not joined or weren’t drafted.
A good example was TonyDeStefano’s brief stay in Egypt and how their group of soldiers visited the pyramids. The soldiers also saw that there was a McDonald’s nearby and that they wanted to eat there instead of at a dinner that was planned by the Egyptians. Protocol prevailed and the soldiers ate an authentic Egyptian meal when and where they were told, but afterwards DeStefano said he drove a bus so some of them could go to the McDonalds.
Overall, both the students and the veterans seemed to enjoy spending the afternoon together.
“We look forward to this,’’ McBride said. “It means a lot to us. It’s important to the town also. We have been doing this for a lot of years.’’
Thirteen veterans in all were part of the event, they included McBride; Don Cable, Navy; Tom Holden, Army; Larry Oppel, Navy; John Kryniak, Army; Ed Twomey, Army; Bernie Schettino, Army; Paul Kolodzie, Navy; Kenneth Short, Army; John Larken, Navy; Chuck Dauchert, Arm; Tony DeStefano, Army and John Wierbowski, Air Force.