Veterans help students connect to U.S. military history

POW/MIA lessons to start in UFRSD


As long as people remember, the American government can never forget.

There are more 88,000 U.S. military service personnel who are considered missing in action. A local veterans group wants the families and friends of those who never returned home from service to know that they are not alone waiting for information about their loved ones.

“The American people want to know where these family members are,” Richard Brody, Millstone, said.

Brody, who served in the U.S. Army North American Aerospace Defense Command 1968-69 and in Battery A 4th and 44th Artillery in Korea 1970-71, has been actively involved with veterans’ organizations since 1978. He currently serves as state coordinator, post commander, and national board member of Veterans of the Vietnam War Inc. and the Veterans Coalition.

For Brody, the two most important military issues are America’s prisoners of war/missing in action (POW/MIA) and homeless veterans. Brody keeps abreast of the United States’ efforts to recover and bring home POW/MIA by attending national meetings organized by the families of those missing.

To further encourage the American public not to forget them, he helped develop an educational POW/MIA program for schoolchildren that has been taught in local school districts since 1999.

The program not only helps teach students about the significance of the POW/MIA flag and those still missing, but also about veterans and the military servicemen and women in their own families.

“The children learn a little patriotism by learning the value of community,” Brody said. “We are not out to teach propaganda.”

Once a school district approves the free program, the veterans present it with a POW/MIA flag to fly on a school flagpole.

When the veterans enter the classrooms, they teach students the history of the flag. Mary Hoff, the wife of a soldier who went missing in 1970 during the Vietnam War, recognized the need for a symbol of citizen concern and commitment to resolving POW/MIA cases after she had not heard any information regarding her husband’s whereabouts for over a year, according to Brody.

“The flag is the only flag other than the United States flag to fly over Congress and the White House,” Brody said.

Students learn that Lt. Commander Michael George Hoff’s body was not recovered until 1999 and that his remains were not positively identified until 2004.

The veterans then give students a creative writing assignment to describe their feelings about POW/MIA issues in letters to families of POW/MIA.

The Veterans of the Vietnam War Inc. and the Veterans Coalition New Jersey Post 03 in Millstone mails the letters to the families.

“The families appreciate that the American public is still learning about their families and this issue,” Brody said. “We have sent over 10,000 letters so far.”

Brody noted that some families write back to the students.

“We’ve received letters from families with members missing for over 40 years,” he said. “This helps the students understand the complications of war.”

During the second part of the program, the veterans return to the schools and present an assembly.

Students learn about veterans and their issues. Brody speaks about the Veterans of the Vietnam War Inc. and the Veterans Coalition’s Beacon House Program, which provides housing to homeless veterans and those transitioning from drug and alcohol dependency.

“A lot of veterans coming back from Iraq are having problems reintegrating into society,” Brody said.

Part two of the educational program also introduces students to a military man or woman currently serving.

Students are not only encouraged ask questions of the former and current military personnel presenting the program, but also to go home and talk to their parents about relatives who served.

“Children learn about their own military family tree,” Brody said.

Members of New Jersey Post 03 in Millstone started teaching the POW/MIA program in Jackson schools in 1999. Last year, they implemented the program in the Millstone Township Middle School. The Upper Freehold Regional School District (UFRSD) recently approved the lesson for its elementary school.

UFRSD Superintendent of Schools Dick Fitzpatrick said, “This program will help us teach students to respect those who served us and made our lives better.”

According to Brody, “When one soldier’s life is not worth the effort to save, and when one American is not worth the effort to bring home, then we as Americans have lost.”