Around the country, parades are used in celebration of Independence Day, Super Bowl winners, and traditionally veterans of wars. In the late 1960s and early 1970s however, returning Vietnam Veterans were met with scorn and humiliation. Today, Dayton high school teacher Bridget Federspiel is honoring Vietnam veterans with her students. She spoke to Seth Gordon of the Veteran and Military Center at Wright State University for Veterans' Voices.
Seth Gordon (SG): Can you talk a little bit about what brought you to do the We Love Our Vets event? Where did that come from, and what does it do for the students?
Bridget Federspiel (BF): You know, Veterans Day is their holiday. So, I wanted to come up with another holiday that we could bring in veterans and show appreciation. Honestly, we should do it every day of the week. So, I came up with Valentine's Day because we love our vets. Oh, I'm going to forget the guy's name, but... Will Rogers said, “We all can't be heroes. Some of us have to sit on the curb and wave as they walk by.” And I thought, that's great. We can get some flags and I'll line the children up, children – they’re high school students, up in the hallway, because you don’t see it when you walk into the school. You walk down this hallway and then there's a turn and at the turn is where the parade begins. We'll walk them through there, and we'll wave the flags and cheer them, because some of these guys did not get a parade when they came home, specifically, our Vietnam vets. The World War II guys, they'll puff up their chests and walk through. I've watched guys get out their wheelchairs and walk through, wave and shake hands. I watched these guys tear up. Several Vietnam vets over the years have told me that was so moving and that I didn’t know if I could walk all the way through because I didn’t get any welcome like that at home. And even, I mean let's face it, our Afghanistan and Iraqi vets aren't getting the parades, you know. And even Korean vets, nothing, nothing like that. So, then they get settled onto tables and we do like a speed dating with the vets. Five or six students sit down at a table with the vet and there’s a map for a geography lesson, and pictures that they can bring in, and certain questions they can ask like where’d you serve, and what you do, and why do you go? Then after ten minutes, we ring a bell and the students get up and go to a new vet. They get to talk to six different vets and the veterans love it. Yeah, it's a good thing for my students to experience. I've tried to share it with other schools to get it going. Pick a holiday, we're lucky to have our vets on St. Patrick's Day, or we’re thankful for our vets around Thanksgiving, something. So, it’s great.
SG: How personal is this project for you?
BF: Very personal. It’s made me, it’s definitely made me a better teacher. And I feel such a responsibility to make sure that these stories are stored and saved for the future.
SG: And I feel a real responsibility to take care of those people that have given so much and it's hard not to, I think this is the part that chokes me up, it's hard not to love all of them. They've dug in deep to something that so few people do and to see them...
BF: Mistreated and misunderstood.
SG: Yeah. It's hard.
Seth Gordon and Bridget Federspiel's conversation took place at WYSO as part of StoryCorps' Military Voices Initiative which visited the Miami Valley last summer. Veterans’ Voices on WYSO is presented by Wright-Patt Credit Union with additional support from CareSource. This story was edited by Tony Holloway and Will Davis and created at the Eichelberger Center for Community Voices at WYSO.