Vietnam veterans center creates new post

Deputy director brings military, management experience


The New Jersey Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial Foundation has named an Eatontown veteran to oversee day-today operations and programs that educate the public about the Vietnam veteran’s experience for the Vietnam Era Educational Center.

The New Jersey Vietnam Veterans' Memorial is adjacent to the Vietnam Era Educational Center in Holmdel. The New Jersey Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial is adjacent to the Vietnam Era Educational Center in Holmdel. Kenneth Gurbisz, a Vietnam veteran and a volunteer at the educational center, has been named deputy director of education and operations at the center, which, the website states, is the first educational center and museum of its kind in the U.S.

According to the website, the center was dedicated in September 1998 and is devoted solely to promoting understanding of the conflict in Southeast Asia and the surrounding political strife in America.

The center is located next to the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial, which honors all who served during the Vietnam War, especially the 1,562 New Jerseyans who did not return home, the website states.

“In March, I was approached and asked if I would consider taking the job, and I said absolutely,” Gurbisz said. “I have been volunteering at the [memorial] for the past six years and I love being here.”

As a 27-year employee of PSE&G, Gurbisz held both supervisory and management positions in the company’s fossil production department until his retirement in 2003.

Gurbisz came out of retirement to teach mathematics at the Monmouth-Ocean Educational Services Commission (MOESC) in Tinton Falls, and presently serves as an adjunct professor in management at Brookdale Community College.

He holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering from the New Jersey Institute of Technology, as well as a master’s degree in education and human development from George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

Gurbisz’s credentials include serving in Vietnam.

“I served in the Army for almost three years during the Vietnam War, one of them as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam,” he said. “Like many Vietnam veterans, I didn’t join or become part of anything afterwards. The center here is great and it is a wonderful memorial to those who served in Vietnam.”

In a newly created position, Gurbisz will take on some of the duties that former Executive Director Kelly Watts carried out for 17 years.

“I have loved every minute working with the veterans,” Watts told Greater Media Newspapers in May. “It truly is rewarding work, but it was time for me to move on and I hope the center continues to thrive.”

Watts left the foundation earlier this year to take over the post of director of development at The Rutgers School of Environmental and Biological Studies, formerly Cook College.

“We are fortunate to have someone with Ken’s credentials join our staff,” said Jim Cusick, president of the board of trustees. “His experience in Vietnam, coupled with his background in business and education, will serve us well as we continue to tell our story to students and visitors of all ages.”

Currently, the new deputy director of education and operations said he is working on a forum that the memorial will hold later this year.

“Right now, I am beginning to set up October’s teacher forum, and our keynote speaker will be Tom Hayden, who was well known as a protester during Vietnam and is probably better known for his marriage to Jane Fonda,” Gurbisz said. “The theme for this year is ‘Three Faces, Three Views’ and the five topics are the draft, military action, protests, social issues and diplomacy.”

Gurbisz, who has been in his new post for all of about two months, said that since he is so passionate about Vietnam veterans’ affairs, the job is a natural fit.

“It is nice to do something that you are passionate about,” he said.

Gurbisz said there are no plans to expand the scope of the educational center to include veterans of the war in Iraq. His son, Capt. James M. Gurbisz, a graduate of West Point Military Academy and a Monmouth Regional High School scholar-athlete, was killed by an IED on Nov. 10, 2005, while serving in Baghdad. The younger Gurbisz, who was 25 at the time of his death, was assigned to the 26th Forward Support Battalion, 2nd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, based at Fort Stewart, Ga.

The next program at the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial, “Going Underground: Tunnel Rats in Vietnam,” will be held Saturday, July 18, at 1 p.m. The presentation, which will be a discussion led by N.J. Vietnam veterans, will be about the important role that soldiers known as “tunnel rats” played in the war.

According to the Department of History at the University of Richmond, Va., tunnel rats were American soldiers lowered into the extensive tunnel system used by the Vietcong.

“They were usually smaller in stature and equipped only with knives, pistols and flashlights,” describes Richmond’s Professor Ernest C. Bolt’s Web page on the People’s War and Tran Van Tra.

The New Jersey Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and is located off exit 116 of the Garden State Parkway. The Educational Center, adjacent to the memorial, is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. For more information about the memorial or educational center, call the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial Foundation at 1-800-648-VETS or visit