Cadets tell area 8th-graders about Vietnam MIAs-POWs

The Morning Call

by Rich Harry

Friday, Jan. 12, 1990

The class of eighth graders at Broughal Milddle School Broadhead and Packer avenues, on Bethlehem’s South side, was scheduled for earth and planetary science beginning at 11:30 yesterday morning.

But the lecture was not about rocks or comets or hurricanes.

It was about something a bit more alien to the students, who were 12-15 years old.

“Vietnam”, Cadet Capt. Christian Malesic told them, “is a tiny place where a lot of things happened.”

French colonization. Japanese occupation, Communist insurrection, United State intervention. Even today, 17 years after the last U.S. troops were withdrawn from the Southeast Asian country, the war continues to be felt in that not all are accounted for, Malesic said.

“There are 2333 Americans classified as MIA_POW,” Malesic told the students. “In Pennsylvania, there are 17. Shouldn’t they be brought home and buried on American soil? They fought for our country. They fought honorably.”

An so it went as Malesic, along with Cadet Maj. Earl Kinsley, Cadet Capt. Rich Bowanowsky and Cadet 4th Class Chris Slavinsky – all enrolled in Lehigh University’s Air Force ROTC program – urged the students to help bring the missing home from Southeast Asia. The cadets asked the students, about 20 in number, to write to U.S. congressmen and urge that they work with the Vietnamese and Loatian governments on resolving the issue.

The cadets are members of the Arnold Air Society, a national ROTC service organization whose goals include raising the public’s awareness of the MIA-POW issue. Thus, the lecture at Broughal. In addition, the society sponsors an annual event that includes having members run across the Fahy Bridge in Bethlehem carrying an MIA-POW flag for 24 consecutive hours.

Yesterday, the cadets lectured to three eighth grade classes at Broughal, where they lectured to two other classes in December. The cadets hope to visit two or three other middle schools in the Lehigh Valley before the semester at Lehigh ends.

The lectures in the Broughal Middle School library yesterday began with a brief history of the Vietnam War, which was supplemented by a map of Southeast Asia hung on a wall. The lectures ended with the cadets handing out informative pamphlets supplied by the National League of POW/MIA Families, a Washington, DC group.

Malesic, who did most of the lecturing, told the students that the Vietnamese government had announced the release of all U.S. POW’s in 1973, but said there have been 200 reported prisoner sightings since 1975. The U.S. intelligence community has dismissed 150 of those reports as false but has been unable to “confirm or deny” the other 50, Malesic said.

“I personally believe they’re alive, he said.

The Vietnamese government refuses to release the prisoners, he said, because “if they lied to us at first, they can’t turn back now. Would any other country in the world respect Vietnam again?”

He told the students that military action would not be wise and that a resolution is being sought through diplomacy. Though eighth-graders cannot vote, he said, they can have an impact.

“You have to get involved in your country,” he said. “Go home and tell you parents about this. In the future, you will be the ones who run this country.”

The lectures were begun as a pilot project by the society last May in Harrisburg, the home of Malesic, a senior electrical engineering major.

“We took a lot of time deciding how to go about this, and we picked the eighth grade,” Malesic said yesterday between lectures. “We felt that, at that age, students are old enough to learn about what’s going on in the world, but young enough to have not made any decisions. They’re open-minded.”

Though it was not known how many students who heard the lectures at Broughal in December followed through by writing to law-makers, the cadets said they were certain that their message was getting through.

“This is the type of stuff they don’t get in classrooms – facts about what happened. I think a lot of good is going to come out of this,” said Slavinsky, a freshman engineering major from Selden, N.Y.

Among the teachers whose classes were canceled yesterday because of the cadets’ lectures was Joe Schwartz, who teaches earth and planetary science. Schwartz, a Vietnam veteran, said he did not mind bowing to the cadets because the Vietnam War is of interest to the students.

“There is interest there, because some have asked me about it,” said Schwartz, who served in the Navy 1969-73. “And you could tell they were interested today from the reactions on their faces.”

John Newhall, 13, of Fountain Hill, said he was not very familiar with Vietnam but has been reading about the war in library books. He said he would write to Congress.

Andre Fletcher, 13, of Bethlehem, said he too would write if he finds time. But he questioned whether letter writing would do any good.

“You need more people,” Fletcher said. His solution, he said, would be to picket Congress.