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Vietnam veterans speak to students on war experiences

History comes to life at San Benito High School.
SBHS Social Science Chair Derek Barnes introduced the Vietnam veterans to the room of students. Photo by Becky Bonner.
Vietnam veterans Ron Klauer and George Nava also shared their stories. Photo by Becky Bonner.
The local VFW have banners hung in downtown Hollister in support of active military members. Photo by Becky Bonner.
Banners for current residents serving in the military can be seen on San Benito Street in downtown Hollister. Photo by Becky Bonner.

U.S. history students at San Benito High School heard history come alive when local Vietnam veterans came to campus. The vets shared their stories and answered questions on April 25 and 26.

SBHS Social Science Department Chair Derek Barnes partnered with the local Veterans of Foreign Wars post to give students a deeper understanding of the Vietnam War and the effect the war had on returning soldiers.

“Our goal is that you get something out of today,” Vietnam veteran Bernie Ramirez said to students. “The war has been over 50 years, but it’s still in us.”

Veterans shared their personal stories with students and explained what their lives were like before the Vietnam War, why they went to war, their experiences in Vietnam and what life was like when they returned the United States.

The task was no small feat for those who came to speak.

“I wholeheartedly invite you to ask us questions because 40 years ago we would not have been able to do this. We would have walked away,” veteran Dale Barnes said.

Veteran George Nava supported this view and explained that though it might be challenging to talk about the war, it was important to ensure that younger generations hear their stories before it was too late.

“I had to prep myself to get here,” Nava said. “If we don’t do it now, then when?”

Though their service dates and roles varied, the veterans were all raised in Hollister and came home from the war with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“We came, we saw, we left. That was the three stages of Vietnam,” said Barnes. “The thing we didn’t know was that we brought something home with us.”

For Barnes and the other veterans present, this meant returning home but not being able to truly leave the effects of the war back in Vietnam.

“We were back in the world,” veteran Joe Ortiz said. “Why do I keep going back to Vietnam?”

The veterans also talked of different triggers that brought them back to war, such as dates that marked a particular event or the noise from fireworks on the Fourth of July.

“I’m another one with PTSD,” said veteran Ron Klauer. “I got out of the war in 1969. After that I was running always one step in front of this thing. When it sets in hard it’s hard for you to function properly.”

In addition to PTSD, veterans returning from Vietnam felt a lack of support from American society.

“People would spit at you, cuss you out, and call you baby killers. Because of that many veterans wouldn’t talk about it,” Ortiz said. “You couldn’t say you were a Vietnam veteran or that you fought for your country.”

“When you have your buddies getting wounded or killed and people are protesting and not supporting you, it’s pretty disheartening,” Ramirez said.

Looking to heal and change the patterns of the past, these men not only volunteered to speak to students but are also part of the local VFW chapter focused on supporting members of the military and the community at large.

The VFW supports the armed forces by sending care packages, as well as hanging banners in downtown Hollister for local, active members of the military. The banners are given to those members when they leave the service and return home.

The VFW also sponsors an annual golf tournament to raise money for local scholarships. Ramirez said $10,000 in scholarships will be awarded this year.

Though hesitant to speak of their service after returning home from Vietnam, these veterans showed unity and pride in their service when addressing the crowd at San Benito High. They also acknowledged the heartbreak of losing friends and loved ones to the war.

“All Vietnam veterans are brothers,” Ramirez said. “I’m a proud Vietnam veteran, but it was a loss of so many lives.”



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bjbonner22's picture
Becky Bonner (bjbonner22)

Becky Bonner is a local teacher at San Benito High School who is passionate about sharing things to do in San Benito County.


Submitted by (Gloria Torres) on

This is wonderful!   How awesome for these students to hear such an important bit of history from those men who actually lived it.  It must must have been difficult for the presenters to relive this time in their lives but God Bless these men and their fellow Veterans.  Is there any chance that they may do this for the general public?  I’m sure many people would be interested, I know I would. 

etSomething different about the Vietnam fiasco was that the Draft was still in effect. Lots of the people who died for that particular capitalist adventure were there against their will. Make a choice; go and fight an 'enemy' you may have never even heard of, go to jail, or flee to Canada or Europe. Meanwhile if your daddy was rich you could have the family doctor diagnose bone spurs, or you could fly jets for the national guard and then never face combat (later you could strut around in your flight jacket on the deck of a carrier and talk about fictional missions that were accomplished). You could stay in college constantly for years--if you or your family could afford it. Or you could pretend to be nuts or gay or declare yourself a pacifist and go through all that madness. Lots of guys just rolled the dice. I know several who have told me they never fired their weapon with the intention of hurting anyone. I know others who said that often their outfit was involved in illegal activities brought about by a gung-ho lieutenant or non-com who had a macho dream of his own heroics.

I got lucky and was deemed 1-Y unfit for service because a buddy and I stole his dad's car and he pressed charges--like many a dad would do in those late 1950s. My buddy got into the Marines and never came back. Another came back so violent he had to be institutionalized.

I honor these gentlemen at the core of this article and their willingness to put their pain on display for all of us to bear a bit of it. But why did they suffer? Why did their young lives have to be interrupted? What did it serve. Can anyone tell me without trotting out pseudo patriotic platitudes about freedom and honor and the American way? Isn't all war about markets and securing power of the ruling clas

Submitted by (Robert Gilchris...) on

I have suggested this before, and I will suggest it again. Donald Trump is clearly unenthusiastic about our current wars, and he seems uneager to add to the list. Time may prove me wrong, but until it does I will vote for Donald Trump - not for his words, but for his actions.

Trump has powerful enemies in the military - industrial complex, and in both political parties that take donations from the M-I complex. Not to mention members of his own staff.

Robert, a question: why does he have John Bolton on his staff if he is 'clearly unenthusiastic' about war? Bolton is simply the most bellicose of the neo-cons who spent all of W's time in office stirring up trouble all over the place. Think back about Bolton's career. If you can't remember what a force for engagement in any war anywhere he was, read this;

Another question; do you support ALL of Trump's actions? Literally all of them, even the most despicable?

It seemed to me this article was about some fine people trying to make the brutal realities of entering a shooting war and the resultant consequences of that decision a consideration for those who might be most affected by it-- schoolchildren. What does this have to do with Trump? Did I miss something in the article that called for him to be defended?


Submitted by (Robert Gilchris...) on

I share your concern about John Bolton. As for Trump, I have said this before: The perfect is the enemy of the good. Will you continue to be blinded by your hatred of Donald Trump? 

Believe it or not, Robert I don't hate anyone. I used to hate but I grew up. Giving up hatred was a real eye opener as it allowed me to see clearly the mechanics of it. Simple; there's a fire destroying your house, you put water on it, not more fire.Trump, hopefully, is an anomaly in our history, a one-time lesson for us all. Democratic and Republican lawmakers and voters alike need to look in the mirror and see who they are. Guys like McConnell and Graham are not helping the American people while laughing at the feckless Trump behind his back in order to get the things they want. Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Shumer are not helping our nation to continue to lead the world toward peace by attempting to make an outdated and  proven-wrong party platform work one more time.

Single issue voters, whether it is tunnel vision  on environmental issues, abortion, gender equality, or 2nd Amendment issues are not fulfilling their duty as citizens by electing flawed candidates because they mouth agreement with their chosen issue. Trump deliberately chose to speak directly to the race haters, the Bible Above All believers, the my-country-right-or-wrong pseudo patriots and the cynical greedy businessmen like himself. That's "his base". It is not the majority.

While he's forcing a constitutional crisis on us, all the above issues are going unaddressed. People need to get scared. People need to get productively angry. People need to Vote Them Out. If you're a Republican and your party chooses to ignore the takeover by the right and it bothers you, do something about it.

If you're a Dem and your party is refusing to take a stand on climate change, do something about it.

Be brave, like these vets are. Tell the truth.


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