Vetrans' Champions: Bridget Federspiel
Bridget Federspiel is a history teacher at Stivers School for the Arts. For more than a decade, she and her students have interviewed veterans who served in conflicts from World War II to Afghanistan, and then send the interviews to the Library of Congress for their Veterans History Project. In 2019, Federspiel was selected for a three-month residency in Vietnam to travel, teach and study under the Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching. She was interviewed by Seth Gordon of the Wright State Veteran and Military Center.
"As a history teacher, I've really tried to go to locations where I've taught and since I started interviewing veterans, I really tried to go to locations where the veterans have served. I've been to England. I've been through Germany. I went to Normandy. I've been to Korea, South Korea. I've been to Japan. I’ve been to China. And everyplace I go, I put that into my classroom, into my lessons so that I can show the students how that region has recovered since the war. And I never did that with Vietnam. I'm stuck in 1975 watching that helicopter take off and leave Vietnam. I mean, people have their image of Vietnam from 'Rambo', from movies, you know, and that last TV shot, that last image. So, I wanted to go there. I also in the last five years have probably interviewed more Vietnam veterans than World War II. It's shifted, obviously, because of age. So, I put together the research project that I wanted to find out what Vietnam was like since 1975."
"I had to teach at a university two days a week and that's part of it. I just taught topics in U.S. history that they wanted to know, and I also taught two days a week in an elementary and middle school. I was located in Hanoi, that was my base. But I traveled constantly from Hanoi all around the country. I was a little concerned about maybe some animosity. I mean, we were the nation that kind of destroyed, we destroyed their country. But I never felt any animosity. I only felt that they were very welcoming. When I would have very frank conversations with Vietnamese, we were just one country of a long list of countries that they had to fight to get their independence. So, they were like, you know, 'Don't put yourself up on this high horse because you were there with the French, and the Chinese before that.' You know, they were just in this constant war for their independence. So, that was interesting. When they would find out that I was from Ohio, immediately, most of the Vietnamese would know, 'Oh, Kent State.' They knew that, they knew that and I know people in Ohio that don't know Kent State, which was really interesting. Vietnamese are really interested in us, which was surprising because most people, most Americans aren't interested in them at all."
"I was friends with the woman over there, an American woman, and she told the story of getting her first motorcycle scooter because they all run around in scooters. She had her next-door neighbor come over to help her and get everything set up. She said the first thing he did was he broke off the rearview mirrors on her motor scooter. And she said, 'Don't I need these?' And he said, 'No, no, no, no, no, look forward, never look back. We only look forward.'"
"I thought, 'That's exactly what these people have done. They achieved what they wanted to achieve, and they've looked forward ever since.' We, on the other hand, keep looking back. There's all those quotes that if you're looking backwards, you're going to stumble over your feet, or what not. The Vietnamese are only looking forward, how to make things better for their country, their people, the world. Now, granted, they have problems, but every country has problems, but their philosophy is definitely don't look back, look forward."
Veterans Voices is produced at the Eichelberger Center for Community Voices by Will Davis and Tony Holloway, with support from Seth Gordon Ph.D. at the Wright State Veteran and Military Center. Financial support comes from Wright-Patt Credit Union.