Local vets recount service to students

A group of local military veterans offered Masuk High students and some seventh graders a glimpse into their service time during a special program recognizing Veterans Day Friday in the high school library.

Jan Larsen, SP-5 in DaNang Signal Co. during the Vietnam War, displays his military uniform to students Friday at a special veterans day event at Masuk High School. — Brian Gioiele photo

The panel of veterans featured local residents Art Sheehan, in the NCO First Cavalry Division in the Korean War; Victor Yanosy, aerographers mate second class, recently re-elected town constable and local American Legion commander; Jan Larsen, member of SP-5 DaNang Signal Co. in the Vietnam War and retired long-time teacher at Fawn Hollow and Chalk Hill elementary schools; John Esposito, a sergeant E5; Frank Heffelfinger, a member of NCO First Cavalry Division in the Korean War; and Kenneth Wielk, who served in the Air Force, before leaving then choosing to join the Navy.

“These men have asked for no awards, no trophies, but I can think of no one who deserves them more,” said Masuk High teacher Ian Lowell, who organized this event.

After Lowell’s opening remarks, students asked questions of the veterans, from describing their daily routines, thoughts on when they were drafted and when they were most frightened during their service.

Students were then able to interact with the veterans, some of who brought photos or paraphernalia from their time in service. Larsen brought his boots and uniform, while Sheehan, Heffelfinger and Esposito brought photographs, many of which were faded, black-and-white scenes of fellow military members who became like family under, in some cases, the most horrific circumstances.

Art Sheehan, a NCO First Cavalry Division member in the Korean War and a popular substitute teacher at Masuk High School, shows pictures and told his war stories to students in the high school library Friday. — Brian Gioiele photo

“I was deployed to Korea, my daily routine was to stay alive,” said Sheehan, who joined two years after graduating high school and served in Army intelligence. “We were the eyes and ears of the First Cavalry in Korea.”

Sheehan recounted how he and his team were involved in screening North Korean refugees who were being forced by gunpoint to the south. Sheehan said screening was necessary because the North Koreans would attempt to sneak in their own military agents with the refugees.

“We did all we could to keep the roads clear and survive, day by day,” recalled Sheehan.

Heffelfinger said he received his draft notice on Valentine’s Day 1955 and took it one day at a time in a combat situation.

“There’s no quitting with the military, once you’re in, they’ve got you,” said Wielk, in response to one student’s question about leaving once enlisting. “There was a draft lottery in 1970, but my draft number was 3, so I was getting drafted, so I chose the Air Force.”

While in the Air Force, Wielk said he was a firefighter, not seeing the action some endured, but still dealing with bombings in his base on a regular basis. He said the first time he was in a bunker, hearing the rockets coming in, he remembers trembling, not knowing if his bunker would be hit.

Wielk said that he chose to join the Air Force out of high school, then after leaving the Air Force, re-enlisted in the Navy. Once finally out of the military, Wielk, also a member of the town’s Planning & Zoning Commission, became a Bridgeport police officer.

Esposito, who had just been hired as a civilian working for the military out of college in 1968, remembers receiving his draft notice in the mailbox the day he graduated college.

“I felt that it was responsibility as a citizen to serve,” said Esposito, adding that he was most scared “the first time you get shot at. At first the training and adrenaline kick in, you’re on autopilot, but you are scared because you just don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Frank Heffelfinger, in the NCO First Cavalry Division during the Korean War, shows photographs from his time in the service to students at Masuk High School Friday. — Brian Gioiele photo

Sheehan said he felt a responsibility to serve after high school, during the time when the Cold War with the Soviet Union had begun to escalate and communism was taking hold in the Far East.

“I wanted to do something about it,” said Sheehan about his reason for enlisting.

And while military service can be dangerous, deadly for some, there are also areas where important work is done while not in a combat zone. Yanosy said how he was never in combat but played an important role with top secret surveillance aboard a destroyer out of Hawaii.

“We want to thank them for your service and show that we care enough to hear their stories,” said Lowell.

In closing, Heffelfinger urged the students to ask their parents, grandparents and other family members who might have served to recount their stories, so what those veterans did while serving is not lost to history when they have passed.

“We’re veterans,” said Sheehan, “but I ask you all to not forget about the guys and gals out there serving today. Please keep them in your thoughts.”

 

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