Barry Romo earned a bronze star for his service from 1967-68 in the Vietnam War. But when he goes to bed at night, the veteran told (CHS) sophomores Thursday, he doesn't see the faces of the men he rescued.
Instead, he sees the Vietnamese girl who he carried after an explosive device seriously injured her. He sees the six people he killed overseas.
Many veterans who served there and today in Iraq and Afghanistan committed suicide. Others have post-traumatic stress disorder.
Romo still grinds his teeth. He attributes that to the things he encountered.
"It's not the glory, it's not the parade, it's the things we did, I guess, and the things we carry," he said.
Romo is part of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, the country's oldest Vietnam veterans group. He spoke as part of the school's eighth annual Vietnam Day.
The veteran has attended several such events in years past, said Janet Curry, a CHS Learning Center history teacher. Organizers decided to work with Romo this year in part because he is one of several people interviewed for Vietnam in HD, a recent History Channel documentary series.
On Thursday, students saw excerpts from the series, much of which features footage taken by military members who served in the war. They participated in breakout sessions with titles such as The Air War in Vietnam, Protest Music of the Vietnam War Era and The Psychology of Killing and PTSD.
Josh Meyers, a CHS history teacher, coordinated Vietnam Day. The school previously held a yearly World War II day. While people often frame that conflict in black-and-white terms such as good versus evil, Vietnam is "so much more nuanced," Meyers said. It began as a half-day event and expanded because of its popularity.
Meyers said he would love to spread the message that there are ways to create new and unique learning experiences outside of the classroom and at no cost to instructors. He hopes students walk away with a greater understanding of the war.
It's "just an awesome opportunity," he said.
Romo, the keynote speaker, told students he enlisted because he thought the war was right. He moved through the ranks. His father and brother before him were veterans of World War II.
But the Vietnam War also claimed his nephew, he said, and families with money and political connections didn't have to send their children to war. Minorities were more likely to be placed in the infantry. And a third of American casualties resulted not from active combat but from booby traps.
Romo said his story is just one of millions from the war. He reminded students that he was once their age, having become a commissioned officer at age 19.
He cautioned: "Your future might be there, which isn't the best of all worlds."
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