LAHS Students Share Stories Of Local Veterans

LAHS students in the Sports Lit, 3B class interview Veteran Steve Aumack as teacher Lori Thompson listens during a recent field trip to Los Alamos VFW Post 8874. Photo by Carol A. Clark/

Los Alamos Daily Post

Los Alamos High School Sports Literature teacher Lori Thompson and co-teachers Ellen McBee and Anne Shirey took their students on field trips to the Los Alamos VFW Post 8874, earlier this month at 1793 Deacon St., so they could interview veterans about their time in the military.

“My co-teachers and I decided to interview local veterans this year for our Sports Lit interview unit,” Thompson said. “We knew it would be meaningful for both the students and the veterans in acknowledging and thanking them for their contributions to our national security.”

The students interviewed Vietnam Combat Veteran Richard Kiess, Vietnam Veteran Victor Valenzuela, Desert Storm Veteran Corina Gonzales and Navy Veteran Dave Cooper.

The students are sharing the first four stories they wrote based on their interviews with the veterans with  more stories to follow next week.

Vietnam Combat Veteran Richard Kiess with students from Mrs. Thompson’s Sports Lit class during a recent field trip to interview veterans at the VFW. Photo by Lori Thompson

Vietnam Veteran Richard Kiess’s Story

Senior in Mrs. Thompson Sports Lit, 3B
Los Alamos High School

Richard Kiess is a Vietnam Combat Veteran who spent four and a half years in the United States Army. Mr. Kiess is now 76 years old and was born in 1947 in Winslow, Penn. When he turned 18 years old, he was required to register for the military draft as he had reached the age requirement.

When he was 19 (almost about to turn 20), the United States Army drafted him. Not knowing what to expect, he was ready for what would happen next. Mr. Kiess said when he was serving in Vietnam his job specifically was in jungle warfare and to defend his own troops; he was in the infantry all the time.

During the war, he was stationed in the Delta, the very southern part of Vietnam. He also mentioned that he did jungle training but was mostly in the artillery part. For his service, Mr. Kiess earned several bronze stars and a medal for being a Combat Vietnam Veteran.

We asked Mr. Kiess, “How has the military changed your life?” He replied, “I’m glad that I was in the military, I’m not so glad that I was in Vietnam, but the military changed my life in very positive ways. I feel like it gave me a discipline I wouldn’t have had before.”

We also asked him, “If you can give one piece of advice, what would it be?” His response was something I’ve never heard before, but it really stood out. He stated, “To be in charge of your own life and do it with discipline.”

I really enjoyed interviewing Mr. Kiess, and it was an honor getting to hear his story and getting to know some things about his life and experiences. I want to thank Mr. Kiess for giving us the opportunity to ask him questions and his being open to answering them for us. I also want to thank Mr. Kiess for his service along with every other Veteran and the people in duty for serving and keeping our country and people safe. Happy Veterans Day and thank you!

Vietnam Veteran Victor Valenzuela with students from Mrs. Thompson/Ms. McBee’s Sports Lit, 3B class during a recent field trip to interview veterans at the VFW. Photo by Lori Thompson

An Interview With Vietnam Veteran Victor Valenzuela

Junior in Mrs. Thompson/Ms. McBee Sports Lit, 3B
Los Alamos High School

Last week, my English Sports Literature class and I went to the VFW to talk and interview some veterans for an interview project. And that’s where we met Victor Valenzuela, a veteran who is originally from Tucson, Ariz., who moved to Los Alamos after he got a job as a telephone line engineer.

He then served in Vietnam for three years but returned to Los Alamos after the war and got a job at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. This was over 30 years ago now.

In 1966 after not getting a college degree, Mr. Valenzuela was drafted into the Vietnam War.

He stated, “Around that time, they were knocking on everyone’s door looking for anyone to fight.”

While in Vietnam, Mr. Valenzuela was in communications, using microwave systems to communicate all around the world. When I asked him about some of his favorite memories while he was in the military, Mr. Valenzuela told us that while in Vietnam he met another man who had the same last name as him, and he happened to also be from Tucson.

“I thought it was so cool that I am across the world, and I met this man who happens to have the same last name as me and happens to also be from Tucson,” he said.

To this day, Mr. Valenzuela still stays in contact with this man and other men that he served  alongside.

The last question I asked Mr. Valenzuela was what advice he could give to the younger generation. He advised us that we should focus on our schooling; think about the military but also enjoy our freedom.

He then commented, “One of the most rewarding things about serving in the military is seeing how it has changed lives. You guys can do so many things including talking to me.”

Thanks to veterans like Mr. Valenzuela we do have these freedoms. Overall, I really enjoyed talking to Mr. Valenzuela because he told me so many things that I never would have heard otherwise. He also shared different points of views that I never would have heard. This will definitely be something I will remember for a long time.

Desert Storm Veteran Corina Gonzales with students Keira Battle and Andrea Dominguez from Mrs. Thompson Sports Lit class during a recent field trip to interview veterans at the VFW. Photo by Lori Thompson

A Veteran’s Story

Sophomores in Mrs. Thompson Sports Lit Class, 3A
Los Alamos High School

Corina Gonzales served in the Army Reserves for 27 years. She joined the military when she was just 17-years-old. She was deployed to Desert Storm in Saudi Arabia in 1991; then she was deployed for two tours in Iraq in 2004 and 2007.

As a child, she grew up in Ranchos de Taos with her dad and her three older brothers. All of her family members were a part of the military. Her family wasn’t very happy when they found out she was joining the military; she was the only one who was deployed.

Ms. Gonzales talks about how life after the military “is a big adjustment” because the military has been a part of her life for so long. She was 19-years-old when she was deployed to Desert Storm. She describes her life while in the military as “very stressful” because she was away from her two kids. They were very young, and it was hard leaving them.

“It was rough, you know, to say goodbye to your kids and be gone for a year,” Ms. Gonzales said.

In her career, she became an officer; as an officer, she had to look out for everyone’s safety. She tells us, “Some of the good things out there is that it’s bigger than you; it really is. Serving in that role, any role in the military, you’re doing something that is bigger than you. You’re supporting the world, the United States. You realize how fortunate you are to be a part of the United States.”

Ms. Gonzales reminds us to be grateful for the little things that we aren’t usually grateful for.  After her advice, our eyes are now opened when we realize that not all countries have the same resources or “luxuries” that we have. She goes on to describe these third world countries as, “There’s no bathrooms; their bathrooms are like squats, a hole in the ground. They don’t have a lot of things. Their electricity runs off of oil and stuff like that. They sometimes don’t get all the oil they need to run their electricity.”

Ms. Gonzales retires as a Major after serving 27 years. Some families are afraid for their children to enlist in the military. Some veterans recommend joining while others don’t. Ms. Gonzales recommends we join the military because it helps us get grounded. She implied that it’s hard, but it helps you work in different fields and helps you figure out what you want to do with your life.

We would like to thank Ms. Corina Gonzales for serving and representing our country. Veterans do more than just fight for our country; they help us realize that we should be grateful for what we have and who we have in our lives.

Navy Veteran Dave Cooper with student Aspen Wakefield, left, with her friends from Mrs. Thompson Sports Lit class during a recent field trip to interview veterans at the VFW. Photo by Lori Thompson

The Story Of A Navy Veteran

Junior in Mrs. Thompson/Ms. Shirey Sports Lit, 2B
Los Alamos High School

I’d like to introduce you to Dave Cooper, a retired veteran from the Navy, whom I was given the opportunity to interview and learn about his story. Now I am being given the incredible opportunity to tell his story to you.

Mr. Cooper was born in Anaheim, Calif., and decided that he wanted to join the Navy when he was 16 years old. The main reason for his joining was his parents; so when he was a senior in high school he learned about the nuclear power division and chose to enlist. He also chose the Navy branch because he said it was the most technical and had the best education.

While serving, Mr. Cooper was able to travel the world and go to many places which include Japan, Australia, The Philippines and Kenya. Out of all these places, he was particularly fond of Australia and Japan, but he still enjoyed the experience of traveling to all of the other beautiful and unique places, too.

He had a story from when he was serving on a battleship during the Cold War. He was on the sea and talked of how you could see nothing but water from horizon to horizon. Then one day when they were boarding supplies, they saw a Russian ship about 5 miles away from them also taking supplies. He ended his story there but that must’ve been quite the experience, seeing the “enemy” so close; it must’ve been heart-racing.

That was just the kind of things that Mr. Cooper experienced while serving.

Another memory Mr. Cooper had while serving was when he would grab a “midrat” or “midnight ration” while on watch. It was nice to take a small break because he would work from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and stand watch from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.; so some nights he’d be lucky to get 4 hours of sleep.

When I asked him if he learned any cool tricks while serving, he told us how he taught himself to go down all the stairs without using his feet so that was neat to learn. He also added that while serving he learned the important lesson of how to set yourself up in order to meet all of your requirements and how to manage time and use it wisely. This is a great lesson to learn, and one that I’m still working towards. He had a lot of great advice to give us, but the most important I would say is, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart”. This quote from him is quite memorable and very inspiring.

After Mr. Cooper served from January 1977 to January 1983, he immediately entered into the reserves. His life in the Navy and reserves has been one filled with hardships but also great experiences, and I am so glad to have gotten the chance to talk to him and learn about those life experiences.

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