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Vietnam Veteran Speaks to IB Historians at the American School of Bilbao

By Terry Howard
Vietnam Veteran Speaks to IB Historians at the American School of Bilbao

The American School of Bilbao (ASB), Spain was given the chance to have a guest speaker to come to talk to the IB History class on the topic of the Vietnam War.
Robert Kleinbrook served a full year in Vietnam as a radar control officer near the border with then-North Vietnam. His presentation was divided in two sections; at first he talked about his job, with the support of personnel photos showing the camp, the working quarters, and the hills near the base from which the Vietcong periodically shelled the airport.
Mr. Kleinbrook also mentioned how at times base personnel would reach out to the locals and help them repair their homes after an attack from the nearby hills. Other information he shared with the audience was the intensive use of Agent Orange around the base and how it might have affected his own health for decades to come.
The second part of Mr. Kleinbrook’s presentation provided some answers to some questions the IB history students had sent to him ahead of time.
Perhaps the most emotional part was when he shared with students an explanation of the Vietnam Memorial, and what it meant for him. As he spoke, behind him was the projection of a painting showing a Vietnam veteran, his hand on the wall of names—of soldiers who died in the war. The painting also showed U.S. soldiers in their fighting gear, reaching their own hands out to touch the visitor’s.
Mr. Kleinbrook mentioned that each times he goes to the Memorial, he finds the names of three close friends and “spends time with them.” The emotion felt by the class was intense.
One fact that surprised the IB students is that they were expecting to hear that Mr. Kleinbrook became a hippie after the war, but this was not the case. He became a minister.
What a great way to finish a presentation, by being drawn into a new experiential space!
Some of the highlights identified by the students:
• “Not a single thing Mr. Kleinbrook said could be found in a textbook and this is what made it special.”
• “The emotion we witnessed when he was talking about the Vietnam memorial was incredible. It was amazing to see this, even 45 years after the war.”
• “I enjoyed his words, but most importantly I enjoyed his heart.”
• “Having a Vietnam veteran tell us about those events as truthfully and passionately as he did made the war and its aftermath come to life.”
• “Seeing real footage of the war, and the actual military uniform he wore at the time, made me realize that experience speaks truth.”
Mr. Howard can be reached at [email protected]
About the American School of Bilbao: ASB is an international school, PK-12, private and non profit. It was founded in 1967 by a group of American and British citizens residing in the Bilbao area, under the auspices of the Office of Overseas Schools of the U.S. State Department. ASB has been accredited by NEASC and CIS since 1985.

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