Portraits of Courage

An Exploration of the Lives of Vietnam Veterans

Nikita Kheni, Editor-in-Chief

With more than 21 years of conflict between North Vietnam’s communist regime and the Viet Cong against South Vietnam and the United States, the Vietnam War is one of the most divisive and unpopular wars in United States history.


The untold stories of the horrific war are never taught in regular history classes. In school, students are taught fast facts, simple timelines, mini stories. But the full intensity of events and history is never absorbed due to lack of time and restrictions by the education system. Without actually sitting down and taking the time to talk to the veterans who were a part of this war, there would never be knowledge of the adversities they faced and the courage they needed to defeat them.


This whole project would never have been able to come to life without Mr. Walls, Ms. Tully, Ms. Jauch, Mrs. Shay, and Mr. Cadra. These teachers made it their personal mission to bring justice to veterans’ lives and stories. 29 Vietnam veterans were recruited by them and each veteran was interviewed for an hour in groups of three students from Mr. Walls’ and Ms. Tully’s United States History classes. Each veteran shared their stories of their experience in war and what it felt like to come back to a nation that had turned its back on them. Mr. Cadra’s photography students, Quinn Santone, Sara Jackson, Jackie Pronk, and Megan Himmelheber took beautiful portraits of the veterans to accompany their stories. These stories and portraits were put together to create Portraits of Courage, a 60 page book that was given to each veteran and student that helped with the project. YLHS’s administrators, teachers, students, ASB, and PTSA came together to ensure this project would be successful.


On Thursday, June 8, a gallery walk was held to display the stories and portraits and to commemorate the courage, the pain, the pride, the loss, the battles, and to welcome each veteran rather than turning them away. These veterans fought for the country and when they came back, they were spit on and ignored. They could not get help for PTSD and suffered emotional and physical trauma.

“His parents came to see him and I couldn’t tell them how it happened. I told them it was peaceful, and I’ll take that lie to my grave.””

— Frank Orzio

As the evening began, Mr. Garcia’s jazz band students and Ms. Gilfoy’s choir students welcomed the students and veterans to the event, while Ms. Messick’s culinary arts students provided all the food. The support from the community and the school was heart-warming and the love and respect was so overwhelming.


What started as a simple idea turned into an impactful project that will forever stay with YLHS. The learning experience was incredible for everyone. It reminds us to be more aware and see the depth of each and every story, to never downplay the truths. There is more to each story than just a short paragraph in textbooks. These stories need to be told to honor each and every veteran. 


Thank you to everyone, the teachers, to the students, the administration, the community, the photographers, the editors, and most of all, the veterans. Thank you for your service. We hope we brought your stories justice.