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Bob Matthews was set to be a high school teacher before the draft.
I had my life planned. I was married my senior year in high school, and I always wanted to teach history and coach baseball, said the 66-year-old Cary resident.
His tour in Vietnam from 1967 to 1968 didnt change his plan for life. Last week found the Army veteran teaching about Vietnam, 44 years later, in the halls of Athens Drive High School.
He and his fellow veterans teaching tool was an 80-foot-long replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. The black acrylic structure stretched on its stands down a main hall of the school on Friday and Saturday and its face bore the same 58,261 names as the monument in Washington.
The one-eighth scale wall drew countless pauses and questions from some of the thousands of students who passed during the school day on Friday including a few whose fathers and grandfathers had served in the war, or even had their names inscribed on the walls list of the dead.
The veterans are finding that students questions arent fading even as the country passes the 50th anniversary of the escalation to U.S. involvement in the war.
The interest is more than ever its sharper. They compare Afghanistan, Iraq. ... The teachers, the schools, they want more of Vietnam, said Matthews, who founded Wake Countys Lessons of Vietnam course during his tenure as a social studies teacher at Enloe High School.
They want to hear the real story now instead of all the garbage, said Bill Dixon, a veteran who lives in Raleigh.
The veterans certainly have some stories to tell. As the last students left the school, the graying men traded stories one had faced down a huge tiger in the jungle, frozen in his tracks until his squad mates came and scared the beast away. Another veteran told of the Viet Cong diary he found and decades later returned.
Together those stories are gaining traction.
The U.S. government this May began the 13-year-long commemoration of the half-century anniversary of the war and will continue until 2025.
Matthews semester-long Vietnam class has become a model for 700 similar courses around the country, he said. And the local veterans Bridge Back Foundation has formed an ongoing relationship with the schools and orphanages it helps in Vietnam a cultural exchange that has helped heal the trauma of violence long since silenced.
Athens Drive student John Yildiz has an uncle in the Air Force, but had never met a Vietnam veteran before Friday. As he plied Matthews with questions for the school newspaper, the sophomore learned history from a combat generation thats still telling its story.
He made me realize, Yildiz said, how appreciated they should be.