Suburban Vietnam veterans paired up with Arlington Heights high school students to share their stories in a new book, which was published this week.
"Welcome Home: Arlington Heights Vietnam Veterans," was published in collaboration with St. Viator High School and Peoples' Bank of Arlington Heights. It is the third book in a series put out by Peoples' Bank focusing on local war veterans, said project coordinator Jim Mitchell. The project also has published books focusing on local World War II and Korean War veterans.
On Thursday afternoon, veterans and the students who wrote their stories came together for the book's debut to celebrate the partnerships.
Jerry Van Bladel, a 1965 graduate of Arlington High School who shared his story of service in the book, said he thinks it is important for new generations to learn about what he experienced.
"Even though it's history, it is about really living people. We went through this," said Van Bladel, whose brother is also featured in the book.
Colleen Dempsey, a junior at St. Viator from Mount Prospect, said that hearing the stories about Vietnam made her think of her grandfather's service in World War II, but also of people closer to her age still serving in the Middle East.
"In war, things happen that you could never imagine," Dempsey said. "It gave me a greater appreciation for veterans and all they do for our country."
Over the past few months, students met with their veterans to hear their stories and wrote drafts for the book all outside of class time.
"To hear it firsthand instead of read it in a textbook definitely made it more real," said Margaret Aichele, 17, of Arlington Heights.
The students said they learned about the difficulties of war, but also about the friendships formed and lessons learned.
"The most valuable thing I learned is that even though war is tough, my veteran made a lot of good memories and met so many friends," said Mary Kate Marty, 17, of Barrington.
The debut was the first official appearance for new Village President Tom Hayes, who said it was a special moment for him because of his own military background. Hayes graduated from West Point in 1978 and was stationed in Germany during the post-Vietnam era, but he said all of his instructors were Vietnam veterans.
Copies of the book can be purchased at any Peoples' Bank location, and books will also be donated to the Arlington Heights Memorial Library.