Tommy Burrell shares Vietnam experiences with PCHS students

Published 1:18 pm Wednesday, March 25, 2009

English students in Weicker&squo;s classes recently read &dquo;The Things They Carried,&dquo; a collection of related stories by Tim O&39;Brien about a platoon of American soldiers in the Vietnam War, and Burrell volunteered to share some of his experiences as a communications specialist and field radio repairman with the 1st Cavalry Division Air Mobile Army during his tour in Vietnam from May 1969 to May 1970.

&dquo;I appreciate Mr. Burrell&squo;s willingness to prepare such a dynamic presentation,&dquo; says Mrs. Weicker. &dquo;The students pored over his personal photo album and magazine articles. Surprisingly, Mr. Burrell&squo;s experiences in Vietnam were filled with stories of friendships and events that could have been straight from the novel that we read in class, making the students&squo; reading experience more authentic.&dquo;

Burrell, who was a Spec. 5 for the 1st Cav., discussed his daily tasks that included establishing and maintaining communication for his unit, and he also spoke with the students about the complexities of friendship among soldiers serving together in a war zone, a topic that is the focus of many of the stories in The Things They Carried.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

&dquo;War is a terrible experience for all branches of the service especially the Army and Marines,&dquo; says Burrell. &dquo;I hope the students and all citizens will respect all military personnel who have been in combat; their lives have been changed forever.&dquo;

&dquo;I also hope they remember to thank a veteran at any opportunity they have as it will make them feel appreciated for their time in the service,&dquo; he adds stating that when his tour was over he and his fellow soldiers were returned to the United States at 2 a.m. to avoid protestors at the airports and bus stations. &dquo;This makes you feel that you did not accomplish what you were there for. Most veterans did not go because they wanted to, but out of respect and duty for their country and our freedom.&dquo;

Burrell told the students about his tasks of repairing defective and portable radios, establishing Landing Zone and forward fire support bases, setting up antennas, pulling guard duty and repairing radios and equipment in the field.

&dquo;I enjoyed hearing Mr. Burrell talk,&dquo; said student Jamie Sessoms. &dquo;He made me realize how much of an impact war actually has on a person and how it changes their perspective on life.&dquo;

He brought memorabilia to show the students that included an air mattress, poncho, dog tags, photo albums and Vietnam era magazines, medals and discharge papers. He also shared a documentary, &dquo;Vietnam Soldier&squo;s Story: War in the Skies&dquo; that provided information on the aerial equipment and missions in Vietnam.

Burrell says that although he was nervous at the beginning, he enjoyed sharing with the students and staff. &dquo;The students were interested and asked good questions,&dquo; he says. &dquo;I appreciated their comments and I thank Ms. Weicker and Ms. Gilbert for

their help in setting up the program.&dquo;

Additional DVD&squo;s that document the history of America&squo;s wars are available from the library of the VFW Post 10349 in Mill Spring.

‐ article submitted