In preparation for Flag Day, Hoboken veterans from American Legion Post 107 in Hoboken spoke with fifth graders at Elysian Charter School last week.
Flag Day, a nationally-recognized holiday celebrated annually on June 14, commemorates the adoption of the flag by the United States. It happened on June 14, 1777, by resolution of the Second Continental Congress.
“We really felt it was important for our students who have studied and researched wars to speak with our veterans firsthand,” said fifth grade teacher Christina Francisco. “It’s a great opportunity for the students to interact with history in person and get firsthand accounts of life in the military.”
Two weeks ago, the American Legion post provided the students with a comic book about the American flag and its history in preparation for their discussion.
The 32 students spoke with veterans Vincent Wassman, who served in both World War II and Korea; Commander of American Legion Post 107 John Carey, who served in the Vietnam War; City Clerk James Farina, who also served during the Vietnam War, and Al Dineros, who served for 20 years in the US Navy.
“They have been so excited,” said Francisco, who added that students prepared their questions ahead of time.
First hand snippets of life in the military
The students asked the veterans a variety of questions ranging from what weapons they personally used to the draft and what it was like in the military.
“What was one time you remember very well?” asked a student named Daniel.
“I served on a troop transport, which means we brought soldiers to England and brought the wounded and dead back to the United States,” said Wassman. “I remember one time when we were in a convoy and we hit really rough weather, and we were in a hurricane. The boat would rock over to one side, and I slid down the deck and almost fell overboard.”
Dineros, who joined the Navy voluntarily, said he served on a supply ship that brought food, equipment, and weapons.
“Did you guys ever wonder how those big tanks got overseas? That’s what supply ships do,” said Dineros.
“Were you worried?” asked a student named Peter.
“I worried a lot about my mom and dad and whether or not I’d get home to see them or hug them again,” said Wassman.
A few of the veterans also discussed what it was like to be drafted.
Carey said the scariest moment for him was “the day I got drafted,” and he explained the draft process.
“During the ’60s you had to register for the draft when you turned 18,” said Carey. “You still have to now …but you guys are lucky, as it was done away with in 1977, by President Nixon, I believe. Once you registered, and got a number and there was a draft lotto, kind of like a bingo machine, and if your number was called you went to serve your country. I was drafted for two years and I am lucky I came back unscathed.”
Farina added that now joining the military is voluntary.
Dineros, who joined the Navy voluntarily, said he served in many places over the length of his military career including Scotland, Iceland, Bahrain, and Italy. He said the military has made improvements every day, such as eliminating the draft, allowing women into the Seals, and more.
“Were there many women in the military, and if so, what positions were they in?” asked Caroline.
“They were the real heroes of that day.” – James Farina
“I started off and my unit was all men, but toward, the end, we had more and more women,” said Dineros. “There were medics and pilots and right now women can join the Seal team and all Special Forces. Women are now allowed on submarines. When I left they were changing the bathrooms on the ship to accommodate women.”
Farina said that women have always played in influential role.
“During Pearl Harbor, women were the nurses tending to our wounded and they played a great role,” said Farina. “They were the real heroes of that day.”
Some of the veterans also described the journey home.
Carey said most soldiers are flown back now to their destinations, but that wasn’t always the case, according to Wassman.
“I took a transport ship back to Seattle and hitchhiked all the way home,” said Wassman. “It took me three of four days maybe and I slept in police stations, in jails. I got to see a bit of scenery. It was quite the adventure. “
“Today hitchhiking is very dangerous,” he added. “We don’t recommend it.”
Marilyn Baer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.