By ROBERT LINNEHAN
Since 2001 Haddonfield Memorial High School history teacher Michael Busarello has been teaching students about one of the most divisive wars in American history, the Vietnam War. The HMHS teacher inherited the program from Patty Kolodi, who began the class in 1991, and it remains one of the most popular electives at the high school.
While it’s important for students to know the dates and figures of the war, it’s always been the program’s intention to have the students become more familiar with the men and women who fought and served during the conflict, he said. One of the most important features of the class is a deep-well of Vietnam veterans who have been coming to the high school for many years to share their stories with HMHS students.
Last week Andy Tally, perhaps the longest tenured speaker of the program, visited HMHS with some of his massive collection of Vietnam War memorabilia. The Camden native was drafted to the conflict in August 1967 and served with the 1st Battalion 22nd Regiment for a term.
Tally has been speaking with HMHS students since the early 1990s when the program started, he said last week.
“The Army gave me discipline and structure. It definitely helped me later on in life,” Tally said as he spoke about his career as a state policeman after the war. Going through state police training was easy compared to his basic training for the military.
It’s easily the highlight of the class for the students, as various speakers come in and share their experiences. During every presentation he gives, Tally picks a student from the audience and dresses him or her in the full uniform and equipment.
Pat Donnellon, a senior, offered up his services and donned the 60-pound outfit that Tally had to wear each day for a year as he and his battalion marched through the jungles of Vietnam. Ammunition, a flak jacket, MREs — it was all there as Donnellon took each piece of equipment and slung it over his shoulders like Tally.
Donnellon said it was heavy just standing in the classroom. Tally said that the walking regiment would hump the equipment every day for the equivalent distance of Haddonfield to the Echelon Mall.
Helping the students get a better understanding of what men and women went through in the conflict keeps him coming back each year, Tally said.