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A handshake he won't forget: Middleburg High connects students with Vietnam veterans

Most were treated like dirt when they came home. But now local schools are working to teach their students about the Vietnam War and connect them with local vets.

MIDDLEBURG, Fla. — "Most of us have Agent Orange," explains Vietnam veteran Tony D'Aleo to students at Middleburg High School.

Then he goes on to say they will probably "be dead in five years." 

Sobering and sad, this is a tragic chapter of the Vietnam War. Some three million of our Vietnam veterans were exposed to Agent Orange, a poisonous chemical used to clear out the jungles in Vietnam to strip away enemy hiding spots.

It's one example of the blunt reality some Vietnam veterans shared with a crowd of Middleburg High students. 

There was no sugar-coating. 

But the students seemed to appreciate the honesty.  One said, "I'm very glad they really said what actually happened."

The impact on the students? A hush of sincere respect. 

Credit: photographer Steve Stewart-- Vietnam documentary and veterans at Middleburg High

Afterward, one student came up to D'Aleo and said, "I want to shake your hand before anything happens to you."  D'Aleo served in the United States Army and then Marines for 2 1/2 years in Vietnam.

First Coast News worked with history teacher, Collin Markum, to bring our new documentary and Vietnam veterans to Middleburg High.

The documentary, Voices of Bravery--Honoring the Veterans of Vietnam, is available to watch with no ads. Text the word VIETNAM to 904-633-2402.

Reporter Jeannie Blaylock with First Coast News is taking the documentary to local high schools. If you want her to come with the Vietnam presentation to your school or group, her email is jblaylock@firstcoastnews.com

The day after the Vietnam event at Middleburg High, Markum says he had a roundtable discussion with his students. He says, "All positive responses--emotional or interesting comments they heard, questions they wanted to ask, info they had learned since talking at home last night."

Markum says he'll be signing up to do it again for the next school year. 

Credit: Photographer Steve Stewart --- JROTC at Middleburg High presented the colors at Vietnam event

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