Vail Valley vets gives kids firsthand views of war |

Vail Valley vets gives kids firsthand views of war

Lauren Glendenning
Vail Valley, CO Colorado
Dominique Taylor/Vail DailyValley Valley Vietnam veteran Butch Mazzuca, right, demonstrates on student Jesse Chamberlayne, 17, how American prisoners of war were tortured by the North Vietnamese. Mazucca gave a talk for a class on the war at Red Canyon High School in Edwards.

VAIL VAILLEY ” Vail Valley resident Butch Mazzuca remembers flying to a city in Vietnam where he and his fellow soldiers thought they’d be safe from attack for the night ” they were wrong.

As the soldiers found themselves under attack, they scrambled to fly out of there before anyone was hurt.

These are the kinds of anecdotal accounts of the Vietnam War that local veterans are telling students at Red Canyon High School. They tell stories about war that teachers and textbooks can’t teach, said Ann Constien, a Red Canyon language arts teacher who teaches the Vietnam War class with social studies teacher Troy Dudley.

The series of speakers has changed the curriculum of the class since it started a few years ago. Dudley said the class started as a 1960s-era class with a Vietnam War component, but the veterans’ impact has changed made it just the opposite.

It’s a one-of-a-kind lesson, said Buddy Sims, an Air Force Vietnam helicopter pilot who has participated for a couple of years.

The program received the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Special Projects Award for Excellence as the best veteran’s educational project two years ago, he said.

Dudley said he can see how engaged his students are when the speakers are there.

They’re focused and genuinely interested in what each veteran has to say. He said he sees that many of the students grasp the power of the class and of the lesson, and it’s all thanks to the speakers.

“It teaches the power of perspective,” Dudley said. “And it’s just going to keep getting better.”

Mazzuca spoke thsi week at the Edwards campus, and when he left the students were memorized. They said Mazzuca was the best speaker yet ” but they say that every time, Dudley said.

There are eight speakers in the program, which is about half finished. This year they’re all drawing comparisons between the Vietnam and Iraq Wars.

It helps the students relate to the subject a little better, Mazzuca said, because Vietnam “is ancient history to these kids.”

There were three main points that Dudley and Constien wanted each speaker to address: the effect war has on individuals and society; the parallels between the Vietnam and Iraq wars; and how opinions of war change over time.

The most valuable part of the lesson, Constien said, is that each speaker presents a completely different story about what happened. It teaches the students to think for themselves, gather as much information as they can and form their own opinions.

“You’re learning this big spectrum of different points of view,” she said. “(The Vietnam War) is such an interesting period in time, and most text books don’t give it the treatment it deserves.”

The time period is one many of the veterans get choked up about. During some points in Mazzuca’s presentation, he had to fight back emotions and ended up moving on to other subjects. Vietnam wasn’t something he really began thinking about until the last 10 years or so, he said. And there are many parts of the war where he doesn’t remember things at all ” not even things like being fired upon by the enemy.

As the students stared at Mazzuca and asked questions about battle, flying and politics, it was obvious the lesson not only provided a personal insight into the war, but it made the students think about what happened and about the perceptions of what happened.

Perceptions are exactly what the program is about, Dudley said.

Each veteran comes in and has his or her own personal spin on what happened, Sims said.

Everyone asks students questions and tries to keep their attention through an interactive talk, he said.

The students are usually ready with questions. They ask things like would the veterans re-enlist knowing what they know now. They want to know what it’s like to fly through a war zone. They’re curious about whats soldiers felt while fighting for their country.

“When you’re in combat you do not fight for your country,” Mazzuca said. “You fight for the guy next to you ” believe me.”

That’s one of eight perceptions that Red Canyon students can draw their own conclusions from.

“That’s one of my favorite things about this class,” said junior Nick Maher-Coville, 17. “We can hear what they thought about the war, as opposed to what the media thought.”

Maher-Coville likes that the speakers answer their questions, too. Josh Sena, also a junior, is just happy to learn from someone who was there.

“They really respect these speakers,” Constien said. “We have such an amazing veteran community.”

Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or

Support Local Journalism