Education

War Veterans And Young Actors Exchange Stories And Music

To help these kids prepare for a musical about the Vietnam War, local veterans met with them to share their experiences.


"War isn't over when it ends
Some pictures never leave you mind
They are the faces of the children
The ones we left behind"
-Lyrics from the musical, Miss Saigon

As part of their preparation for their spring musical, Miss Saigon, students from the Pope John XXIII Regional High School in Sparta, NJ were treated to a special, albeit sobering, visit from a group of Vietnam veterans.

The story of Miss Saigon (a retelling of Puccini's opera, Madama Butterfly) revolves around the love of a Vietnamese girl and an American G.I. who are torn apart by the fall of Saigon during the Vietnam War - not exactly a common experience for high schoolers in 2020.

"It's hard for teenagers today to imagine what it would have been like to be living life as a high school student one day, then enlist or be drafted and find themselves suddenly stationed in the jungles in Vietnam surrounded by enemy fire," theater director Jacquelyn Burt told the Township Journal.

Vietnam Veterans share their stories with Pope John XXIII Regional High School StudentsTeresa Sellinger

To aid in their preparation, the student actors met with Vietnam War Veterans Doug Nobile, Peter Litchfield, and Sparta mayor, Jerry Murphy. Mayor Murphy, who was a USMC Pilot shared a tragic story about the deaths of fellow Marines.

"Our helicopter and another took off on a flight through terrible fog and mist," he said. "They had trouble navigating and went down. Never returned. You expect to lose friends in war, but you can never truly be prepared for when it actually happens."

Students ask questions about the veterans' experiences during the Vietnam War. Teresa Sellinger

After the veterans shared their stories, they opened it up to a question-and-answer session with the cast. In return, the cast treated them to an a capella rendition of the song "Bui Doi" from the show (at the request of Litchfield).

This inter-generational meeting will not only provide the students with a better understanding of the characters they're playing, but also help them approach the show with the reverence it's due. "We were very honored to have these brave men take the time to truly bring to life the experience of fighting for our country during the Vietnam War," said Burt.

How can you start something good?

Seek out and pay attention to the wisdom of the elders in your life. They have important lessons to share. To help preserve these important lessons from those who served our country, consider donating to your local VFW.

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