Generations of war veterans gathered to share their experiences and sacrifices at a panel at College of the Canyons on Tuesday afternoon.
Veterans from World War II, the Vietnam War and the Korean War shared their stories at the panel entitled “Reflections of Time: Perceptions of War Through the Generations,” which shed light on each war and the lasting impact it left on those who served.
The panel was part of a series of events put on by four College of the Canyons students for their senior capstone projects. Students involved were selected by the California Community College Foundation as civic scholars who sought to bring awareness to veterans’ issues on campus.
“It’s important we are aware and respecting our veterans and thanking them for everything they’ve done,” COC senior Jade Aubuchon said to introduce the panel. “Even if you don’t support conflict, you should support people who have to be in the middle of it.”
Chris Borja, another of the four students, is an Afghanistan veteran and purple heart recipient. The most important service community members can do for veterans is to make sure they don’t feel isolated by spending time with them, he said.
“Just talk to them,” Borja said. “Don’t ask them too much about their service. Make that bond of connection and build off there.”
Jim Hackett, a Vietnam War veteran, served on the panel and discussed his experience in military electronics school. He said when veterans returned from the war at that time, many of them were not appreciated because the country was so opposed to the war.
In fact, he said it was about 20 years before he even told anyone he served, but said serving made him a better person.
“There are things I could talk about that were terrible and things that were hysterically funny,” Hackett said. “We were there for our friends. You’re more concerned about the guy right next to you than if the president is happy with what you’re doing.”
Lee Shulman, a World War II veteran, shared about his plan to enlist in the military to fulfill his dream of becoming a pilot. Instead, his skills in coding and typing led him to become a cryptanalyst for the military.
“Being in the military was an important part of my life,” Shulman said. “I went in a little kid and left more of an adult. WWII veterans are a special breed.”
He said it is invaluable when community members thank him for his service and encouraged attendees to speak up when they see a veteran.
“I feel very good when people say, ‘thank you for your service,’” he said. “I feel that warmth that radiates from that recognition. Sometimes I feel it’s more than I think I deserve.”
Joyce Shulman, his wife of nearly 50 years, talked about her work as a therapist who helps veterans.
“I work with veterans, I don’t work on veterans,” she said. “The important thing is to show them respect.”
Korean War veteran Jim Lentini shared his experience growing up in a military family and enlisting in the war.
“It’s so important what you learn,” Lentini said. “You grow up in there. You cut the umbilical cord. You learn to be independent and think for yourself. I wouldn’t want to trade it for anything.”
He started college with plans to be a police officer, but after coming back from the war, decided he wanted to pursue business.
“You come out of the military with a more definitive idea of your goals,” he said.
Bill Reynolds, a Vietnam veteran and The Signal’s Director of Veterans Affairs, shared his initial hesitation to serve. While many of his friends volunteered, he waited until he was drafted because he was so happy with his life at home with his job, car and girlfriend.
“If Uncle Sam wants me, he knows where I am,” he said.
Reynolds also discussed a particularly deadly day where 47 American soldiers were killed and he was wounded. After he came back, he made it his mission to return to regular life while also honoring veterans.
“Do anything you can to achieve the American Dream,” he said. “I have really hard memories of Vietnam but great memories of the people.”
When an audience member asked the panelists if they would go back and repeat their experiences serving in the military, they all immediately said they’d do it over again.
Three other panels are set to be held this week, in addition to a display to represent the 22 veterans who commit suicide each day, as well as a letter writing campaign to thank veterans.
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