Tag Archives: Iraq

“Hell No, We Won’t Go!”

A portion of the crowd -- primarily Staples students -- protesting the Viet Nam war in 1969. (Photo/Adrian Hlynka)

For nearly 10 years, America’s all-volunteer military has fought 2 costly, controversial wars.

Protests have been muted.  A few people stand on the Post Road bridge every Saturday morning.  Someone writes an occasional letter to the editor.

At Staples, high school students — few of whom even think of serving — scarcely give Iraq and Afghanistan a passing thought.

How different things were in 1969.  Vietnam was a quagmire — and Westport was up in arms, on both sides of the issue.  Loud anti-war protests took place at Town Hall every Saturday.  After 3 hours of raucous debate the RTM passed — 17-15 — a resolution asking immediate action to withdraw from Southeast Asia.

Many Staples students — though certainly not all — were fervently anti-war.  On October 15, 1200 students — joined by some from the 3 junior highs — celebrated a national Moratorium Day.

They — actually “we,” because I was among them — marched from the Staples tennis courts, down North Avenue and Long Lots Road, all the way to the steps of the YMCA.

The long line of marchers headed downtown. The A&P was near what is now the firehouse; the Esso gas station is now a Phillips 66. (Photo/Adrian Hlynka)

We carried American flags and wore buttons saying “Peace Now” and “Hell No, We Won’t Go.”  Along the way, other students threw eggs at us.

At the Y, we listened to speeches (including one by Iowa Senator Harold Hughes).   We waved our fingers in the peace sign.  We looked around, and were stunned at our numbers.

A year earlier, we had helped drive Lyndon Johnson from the presidency — but our new president was Richard Nixon.  Finally, in 1973, a peace treaty was signed.  Two years later the last Americans were evacuated from the U.S. Embassy roof.

In 1969, Adrian Hlynka was a Staples student.  A gifted photographer, he took dozens of shots on Moratorium Day.  Here is what it looked like to protest a war, more than 4 decades ago.

A portion of the crowd in front of the Y. The Fine Arts Theater (now Restoration Hardware) was showing "Alice's Restaurant" and "Medium Cool." Police stood on the roof next door. (Photo/Adrian Hlynka)

More of the enormous downtown crowd. The current Max's Art Supplies is on the extreme left; what is now Tiffany is at the far right. (Photo/Adrian Hlynka)

Rabbi Byron Rubenstein of Temple Israel addresses the crowd from the steps of the Y. (Photo/Adrian Hlynka)

The crowd was predominantly -- though not entirely -- made up of Staples students. (Photo/Adrian Hlynka)

A Staples student states his case. (Photo/Adrian Hlynka)

Junior high students joined Stapleites at the 1969 Moratorium rally. (Photo/Adrian Hlynka)

To Iraq And Back

During his long year in Iraq, Richard Franzis carried a bit of Staples with him. 

Franzis — a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve, and also a Staples High assistant principal — wore a gift from fellow administrator Pat Micinilio around his neck.  In his wallet was a letter from Latin magister Dan Sullivan.

Earlier this year, Franzis talked about the things he carried — physically and emotionally — in a presentation to Dan Geraghty’s English class.  The students were reading Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, about soldiers in Vietnam.  Franzis’s experience — as an intelligence officer during the peak of the surge — was a perfect tie-in.

In fact, since his return to Connecticut last July, the popular administrator has spoken about Iraq to a variety of audiences.  He’s addressed the Rotary Club, Y’s Men, and 5th grade DARE classes.  This week he’ll talk to Bedford 8th graders, plus his daughter’s AP English class at Fairfield Ludlowe.

Lt. Col. Richard Franzis

Lt. Col. Richard Franzis

He appreciates sharing experiences and perspectives listeners don’t get from TV.  He discusses daily life, living conditions and — a favorite topic — the egalitarianism of today’s military.  He emphasizes the importance of meritocracy — and the great contributions of female soldiers.

“It’s downplayed, but because there are no front lines in Iraq, women do a lot of things males do,” Franzis says.  “They’re in the turrets, they’re highly engaged, and they’re winning medals for valor.”

In recent DARE speeches at Long Lots and Green’s Farms, Franzis tied together his leadership experiences as both a soldier and educator.  He told the youngsters to “take the harder right over the easier wrong,” and to “lead by example by being out front.”

With older audiences — including high schoolers — he highlights the youth of the soldiers he led.

Showing photos of “kids” on his convoys, he says, “When you think of war you think of Tom Berenger and Willem Defoe in ‘Platoon.’  These pictures look like guys I could have suspended this morning for cutting class.  They’re that young.”

Then he tells of a 19-year-old who won the Medal of Honor, for falling backward on a grenade.  His sacrifice saved 4 lives.

“I don’t glorify anything,” Franzis says.  “I talk about my own fears.  In Iraq death can find you anywhere.”

His tour was not, he says, “glorious, or a big adventure.  But it brings out the best in people.”

Staples students respond very positively.  Some write letters or emails, thanking him for talking so matter-of-factly about a difficult issue.

They’re taken aback, he says, by his answer when they ask his opinion of our country’s mission in Iraq. 

He tells them frankly:  “I don’t know.  But if you wear the uniform, you don’t have the luxury of asking questions.  You do what you do for a cause that’s bigger than yourself.”

Franzis appreciates the opportunity to talk.  “As long as it’s relevant and I have a message, I’ll do it,” he says.  “It’s not about old war stories.  It’s just about me being there, describing life.”