War veterans share insight and memories with students

Christina Cocca

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A gallery exhibition of student research and panel of War on Terror veterans commenced Thursday in honor of the 50th anniversary of the film “Lawrence of Arabia.”

Five veterans shared their reactions to viewing the film in 2012, decades after its release.

The speakers included Val Reyes, a retired colonel of the U.S. Army, Joseph Lonergan, a military police officer of the U.S. Army, Jason Freudenrich, a retired corporal from the U.S. Marine Corps, Pierre Marcos, a retired sergeant from the U.S. Marine Corps, and Melissa Filbeck, an English graduate student at CSUN who worked for Army intelligence as an Arabic linguist in Iraq.

The students’ exhibits compared themes from the film to course material in some of Dr. Robert Lopez’ English classes.

Thomas Romero, 21-year-old junior history major in Lopez’ Greek and Roman mythology class, drew comparisons between Lawrence of Arabia and Greek leader Pericles for his project. He found the insight provided by the panel into the goings-on of Iraq interesting.

Dr. Lopez, a veteran who served in the reserves, assigned the projects as part of his “Myth Goes to the Movies” series, which connects mythology literature with cinema.

“I want veterans to be able to interpret art and gives their views on it without political agendas forced on them,” Lopez said. “So often, people try to force either a patriotic or anti-war agenda on veterans. I wanted students to hear veterans speak about art in their own voice without anyone trying to spin it or interpret it.”

Reyes, who served in Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom and now operates a combat trauma center, said the students’ exhibits were “marvelous presentations.”

As part of his duty overseas, Reyes counseled children who survived walking over landmines, an experience that impaired his relationship with his own children after he arrived home.

“I had to seek counseling to communicate with my own children after counseling kids who were so badly burned that I could smell their burned flesh,” Reyes said. “When I looked at my children, I kept thinking of those burned kids.”

Lonergan, an English graduate student at the University of Missouri who served as a military police officer in the Guantánamo Bay prison, said the controversy surrounding the prison was evident.

“You could feel the cynicism among the guards and the controversy of the whole place,” he said. “Cuba is a big deal to me, and it will be throughout the rest of my life.”

Freudenrich, a CSUN English alumnus who served a tour of active duty in Iraq as a Motor Transport specialist, said he had seen the “worst of the worst and the best of the best” in his three trips around the world. He urged students to seek out real life experiences to accompany their education.

“If you read about love, you won’t get the full experience of what it is until you’re actually in love,” he said. “If you want to go somewhere, go there, do it and see and feel the experience.”

He added having an academic education positively adds to the “real life” experience.

Marcos, a CSUN English alumnus who did multiple tours in the War on Terror in Iraq as an infantryman, said the marines are a hardened group of people.

As a machine gunner and scout sniper, he compared instances of “gallantry and honor” in the film to his own memories of combat.

“There is no honor in suicide bombing. There is no honor in killing innocent people,” said Marcos, who is now a seventh-grade English teacher. “My method of coping is to make sure I’m still serving a purpose and still helping people.”

The panel agreed the experience of one who served in the military is not one easily understood by those who have not served.

Filbeck said those who have served have an unspoken understanding that they relate on an intangible level, no matter how different their experiences in the military may be.

“It’s almost impossible to articulate what you’ve taken from that experience to someone if they haven’t been there,” Marcos added in agreement.

Marcos verbalized the soldiers’ level of respect.

“The reason America is so great is because the military is voluntary, not mandatory,” Marcos said, bringing the evening to a close. “We love our freakin’ country so damn much that we put ourselves between it and a bullet. That’s all we know.”