Gerald A. Miller Jr.
School: La Salle College High School in the Wyndmoor section of Springfield Township, where he teaches social studies.
Achievement: Miller, of Whitemarsh Township, has been teaching the history of Vietnam at La Salle since 1983; the class includes both Vietnam's history and current events. The course also includes a visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington.
"The course covers Vietnam from the Trung Sisters through present-day Vietnam," Miller, 58, said. "We look at the military, social and political forces that make Vietnam history a valid way of looking at the past."
The school says nearly 1,000 students have taken Miller's elective class. In March, Miller, a Vietnam War veteran, marked his 50th class trip to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall; the school offers two sections of the course during the school year.
Miller also was invited to participate in the 25th anniversary celebration of the Vietnam wall on March 26, as well as to be part of the groundbreaking ceremony for the new Vietnam Education center, which will be constructed adjacent to the wall. The education center is designed to teach America's youth about the Vietnam War.
Miller has a bachelor's degree in education from Temple University, and a master's degree in secondary education from Arcadia University. He has been a social studies teacher at La Salle for 28 years.
Question: Can you share what the 50th visit to the memorial was like?
Answer: The 50th trip is certainly one of my fondest memories of the course. It was my first overnight trip, as all the other trips were made on Sundays. And I was able to take my students to Arlington National Cemetery and the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
We then visited the Marine Corps memorial [Iwo Jima], Air Force Memorial, and the Pentagon. We then proceeded to the Vietnam Memorial. . . . And, in the evening, we visited the White House, WWII Memorial, Thomas Jefferson Memorial, FDR Memorial, Korean Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, and ending with the Vietnam Memorial at night, a very different sight.
Q: Can you share a poignant experience from your visits to the wall?
A: I see the wall every time I go there as a teaching moment. I still get amazed at how many students I have taken on their first trip to Washington. When at the wall, the questions pour out of them. I see deep thought, I see reflection, I see respect, I see prayer, but most of all, I see students who feel blessed to live in the United States.
Q: What is your view of the Vietnam War?
A: As to my opinion, it certainly has changed over the years: As more information has become known about the era, and I learn and talk to people who I would say are experts in the era, it becomes harder to deal with the war.
After watching Robert McNamara in Fog of War, I just question decisions made by my government, especially when our nation's youth are the ones who are putting their lives on the line. So I will say I have become anti-bad-war, and history has shown that it was not a good war.
What I have learned with Vietnam and Iraq is that I still have profound respect for the warrior - I especially felt this week with the recent death of a La Salle College High School [graduate], but the war is what gives me pause to reflect. As a teacher, it just saddens me these young women and men are killed in their youth, whether during the Vietnam War or current wars, and I will always continue to ask myself why and was it worth it?
Q: Do you share your views with students?
A: As to my opinion on the war, I tell my students very little about my experience and views on the Vietnam War until the last week in the course. I do not want this to be a war course where I give them my views, as the purpose of the course is to present them the information in as non-biased a way that I can, so that they can come up to their own conclusions.
Q: Why is this course important for students?
A: I think my students, when they have graduated and moved on, look back and see the Vietnam course and the Vietnam War as a time of change in the United States. They feel that they probably know more about this period than their parents, who may have lived through it, and I believe probably know more about the period than some Vietnam vets.
What his principal says: "Gerry Miller's Vietnam course is one of the most popular senior-year electives at La Salle College High School," said Joseph L. Marchese, principal of La Salle. ". . . Vietnam is a wonderfully developed course taught by a man who is passionate about, and at the forefront of, the Vietnam Veterans Association."