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Local Teachers Meet Medal of Honor Recipient Brian Thacker

From the Atlantic Highlands Herald - News for the Bayshore 

Written by Muriel J Smith

MONROE – Educators from several local school districts met with Medal of Honor Recipient Brian Thacker recently for a day long Character Development Program training session aimed at showing educators how they can use the values exhibited by Medal of Honor recipients to guide students on the importance of specific core values and service to the community.

Middletown High School North Principal Patricia Cartier and instructors from MAST, the Marine Academy of Science and Technology at Sandy Hook, Holmdel High School, and St. John Vianney High School attended the seminar at the Foundation for Educational Administration in Monroe Township. The program is presented by the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation and offered at no cost to local school districts. The recent program here is one of more than 70 day long seminars offered by the Foundation every year, and one of many programs and incentives the Foundation sponsors.

Thacker, who received his Medal for valor during the Vietnam War, addressed the group of approximately 50 educators, answering questions on both his service in the US Army and the events leading up to his heroism, as well as his life post military service while he was employed by the US Department of Veterans Affairs. The former Army officer was a first lieutenant with the 92nd Artillery in Lontum Province in March, 1971 when his unit was attacked on an isolated hilltop and the soldiers were engaged in hand-to-hand combat. Thacker rallied the US and Republic of Vietnam soldiers for many hours while in a dangerously exposed observation position, enabling the friendly forces to prevent the base from being overrun. When the friendly forces were forced to withdraw, Thacker directed the procedure, then remained alone to provide cover. His actions enabled the troops to find safety. He was wounded, unable to escape, and successfully eluded enemy forces for eight days before friendly forces were able to regain control and bring him to a safe location.

Like all Medal of Honor recipients, Thacker is reluctant to take any praise or honors for his heroism, referring to the Medal as an “US” award, and crediting the numerous other brave men on every battlefield. He also likened high school teachers to heroes because of the work they do every day in instilling virtues and education in their students. Thacker said he has no bitterness towards the North Vietnamese but added he has not returned to the country because “it’s not yet time,” recalling several of his friends are still there.

William Kuhar and Cory Etchberger, regional curriculum trainers for the Foundation, presented the Program which also included a brief history of the Medal of Honor, several vignettes of recipients, and interaction with the group in questionnaires and discussion designed to demonstrate how the core values of Medal recipients can be incorporated in classroom programs showing teens how to be successful and productive citizens, handle adversities and create their own definitions of core values, as well as develop good decision making skills in their daily lives.

“I am always looking for new programs that show how leadership values can be applied and used by the students, “ said Patricia Cartier, principal of Middletown High School North. “This program does that and so much more.”

Teachers John Schulttheis of Keansburg, a History teacher at Holmdel High School, said the program also enables students to learn about “real heroes,” not just athletes or movie stars. He said he is “absolutely bringing what I learned here back to the classroom.”

Social Studies teachers Diane Thompson of Hamilton and Stephanie Butala of Toms River, who instruct St. John Vianney School students all four years of high school, said the interest displayed by students when they showed a video in class last year on a Medal of Honor recipient made them realize how helpful the Character Development of the Medal of Honor Foundation would be.

And the MAST teacher, Commander Tracie Smith-Yeoman, USN (Ret), said, ”I like to discuss the stories behind the recipients from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and point out to the students that these men weren’t much older than the students are now, and didn’t really set out to be heroes; that they were average people who rose to the occasion, drawing upon the same core values we try to impart through the NJROTC program – honor, courage, and commitment.”

Each of the attendees at the program earned certificates signifying six hours of study, as well as a copy of the book “Choosing Courage,” by Peter Collier, and a complete packet on how to develop the program in their own classrooms for a broad spectrum of teaching methods and formats designed for urban, rural or suburban areas.

Persons wishing to know more about the program or interested in hosting the Foundation in presenting a training session can visit www. themedalofhonor.org