Guest speaker Tim Hrastar could have very well come straight from the pages of the novel that students in Mrs. Beth Marshall’s English classes were studying.
In fact, he served in the same military unit as the story’s main character.
Just over a week removed from Veterans Day, the U.S. Army veteran spoke with two junior English classes in hopes of “relating reality to the literature” after students finished reading Tim O’Brien’s lauded semi-autobiographical novel The Things They Carried. The book details what it was like for those who enlisted to serve the United States before, during and after the Vietnam War -- an experience that may seem surreal for high schoolers now, more than 40 years later.
“Before this lesson I had no idea about the Vietnam War,” junior Zach Burneka said. “We read a book about the war, but knowing that Mr. Hrastar was there, in the same troop as the author, and had experienced everything we read about was pretty amazing.”
Himself a graduate of Marianist institutions St. Joseph High School (now Villa Angela-St. Joseph) in Cleveland and the University of Dayton, Mr. Hrastar revealed how he was commissioned the day of his college graduation in May of 1968. He began active duty in June of that year, serving as a Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Signal Corp and in the 23rd Infantry Division (Americal) with author Tim O’Brien.
“What [Tim] O’Brien went through and what he talks about in his books is the worst possible thing that could happen,” Mr. Hrastar told students.
His own stories recounted the personal ups and downs of his experience, including action (and inaction) in South Vietnam and the heartbreak of having to notify the next of kin back home in New York as a public information officer. Along with telling, Mr. Hrastar showed the realities of war through photographs he had taken and relics he had collected while serving on the ground as a Photo Unit Commander.
Today, Mr. Hrastar owns and operates a communications consulting firm in Springboro. He also lectures and writes about American history and cultural topics, and is active on the Board of Advisors at the University of Dayton OSHER Lifelong Learning Institute where he teaches several classes.
“It’s important that we connect the past with the present and show why this part of our country’s history still matters today,” he said.