Methuen students recreate Vietnam-era protest
Eagle-Tribune Online
Jill Harmacinski


METHUEN | "Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids you kill today?"
Jeanne Whitten, who protested against the war in Vietnam, hadn't seen a sign like that in 30 years.

But yesterday, Whitten, now Methuen's school superintendent, had a flashback as she looked outside her office window at Diston Place and saw 13 high-school students in what appeared to be a full-blown Vietnam War protest.

It wasn't just a mock demonstration. The students were getting one step closer to graduation from an alternative high school program. And yesterday, courtesy of a host of local veterans, the students took a crash course in American war history and its effect on those who lived through it at home and overseas.

Marching on the sidewalk at 2:35 p.m., the majority of the ''protesters'' chanted "Stop the War," while they held signs that said "Give Peace a Chance," "Make Love Not War," and "Rich Man's War. Poor Man's Blood."

There also was support for the war, although it was slim. Stefan Laboy, a senior who is enlisting in the Marines after graduation from high school, and fellow senior Adam Curet, were holding signs in support of U.S. troops.
The police even showed up.

Officer David Mambro pretended to arrest Ali Amato, briefly detaining her in the back seat of a cruiser.

While the protest piqued the interest of passing motorists, it also provided a lesson for the students enrolled in Methuen High School's Alpha program. The program targets at-risk students who don't thrive in a regular classroom. Some of the students even dropped out or took "elongated summer vacations," Whitten said. So, in order to graduate with their class, they enroll in the Alpha program and attend classes after school to catch up.

English teacher Joyce Gagnon said the students haven't just been reading about Vietnam. They listened to music from the 1970s, watched movies about the war and talked about drug use during the era. To prepare for yesterday's event, the students researched various uprisings so they could create realistic signs to carry, said Peter Kitsos, a social studies teacher.

After yesterday's protest, the class gathered in Whitten's office where she told the students about her days as a Salem State College student and anti-war protests she attended and others in the United States. Brian Fowler, the School Department's transportation director, talked about his service in the Marines.

City veterans agent Ed Curran, a Vietnam veteran, told the students about serving in the Army and the way many Vietnam veterans were treated when they returned home.

Mike Downs, the high school's dean of students, spoke about his experience in the Air Force and the many ways military service can impact family life. And state Rep. Linda Dean Campbell, also an Army veteran, shared her perspective on war and the military.

Campbell stressed how important it is for an entire country to stand behind its military during times of war. She also stressed the need for veterans services for soldiers returning home.

"That's one thing we learned from Vietnam; is that we have to take care of our soldiers when they come home," she said. She described her military experience "as one of the best things I ever did in my life."

For their final project, the students will compare aspects of the Vietnam War to the current war in Iraq.

Laboy said he will become the seventh generation in his family to enlist in the Marines. But he's not just doing it out of family tradition or because of a paycheck. Through the Alpha program, Laboy said he now has "more support for my brothers in arms."

Ellie