Tag Archives: Richard Franzis

Honoring Young Veterans’ Sacrifices

Yesterday was Veterans Day. For several years, Staples assistant principal Rich Franzis arranged assemblies, speakers and other events at his school to mark the day.

This year, former Staples teacher — and US Army Ranger — Dan Geraghty invited Franzis to participate at Geraghty’s current school, Easton/Redding’s Joel Barlow High.

Franzis brought along 2 Staples grads. Both are from the Class of 2005. Both joined the Marine Corps.

“At the point in their lives when most 18-year-olds are thinking about summer jobs, the beach and an upcoming transition to college,” Franzis noted, “each of them wrote a blank check made payable to the United States of America for an amount of up to, and including, their life.”

All-State football player Pat Scott served 2 tours of duty in Iraq, and another in Guantanamo. This year, he will graduate from Fairfield University.

Cal Wauchope pinned on sergeant stripes in record time. He served twice in Iraq, and once in Afghanistan. He too graduates this year, from Pace University.

Celebrating Veterans Day yesterday at Joel Barlow High School *(from left): Calvin Wauchope, Rich Franzis, Pat Scott and Dan Geraghty

Celebrating Veterans Day yesterday at Joel Barlow High School *(from left): Calvin Wauchope, Rich Franzis, Pat Scott and Dan Geraghty

Franzis also talked about 2 other members of Staples’ Class of ’05. Greg Jacobs, an excellent student, served several tours of duty in Afghanistan as a scout sniper. He is now studying at Columbia University. Orlando Figueroa served in Iraq, after getting himself in superb physical shape as a senior.

At Barlow, Franzis presented each former Stapleite with a letter. It conveyed his personal thanks — and a story.

The story began when Franzis was a battalion commander in 2004. One of his soldiers was an intelligence analyst who had deployed to Afghanistan just a few weeks after 9/11.

Before he left, he got permission from the FBI, NYPD and Fire Department of New York to go to the Fresh Kills landfill site, where remains from the World Trade Center were hauled.

Franzis’ soldier secured 50 pounds of granite from the fallen buildings. With the Army’s blessing, he transported it to Afghanistan. His goal was to distribute pieces of the granite to troops on the ground, as a remembrance of why they were there.

Remains from the World Trade Center found their way to Rich Franzis' soldiers in Afghanistan.

Remains from the World Trade Center found their way to Rich Franzis’ soldiers in Afghanistan.

In 2007, when Franzis was in Iraq, he received a box from the man. In it was a personalized letter to every one of Franzis’ soldiers — with a piece of the granite from the World Trade Center for each.

Yesterday, Franzis gave a piece of the granite — and a copy of the letter his soldier sent — to Scott and Wauchope. It’s a personal reminder of their own journeys.

“You have figuratively walked a million miles since the Twin Towers fell on that September morning of your freshman year at Staples,” Franzis said. “Let this be a reminder that you can do anything you set out to do.

“The hardest thing you’ll ever have to do in your life is already behind you.”

Staples Honors Memorial Day

The Westport-Weston Chamber of Commerce celebrated Memorial Day weekend with an ad from a lawyer soliciting business for DWI arrests.

Staples High School did it right.

“Good Morning Staples” — the student-produced TV show that airs in classrooms and hallways around the school — departed from its usual fare of artsy announcements and offbeat interviews on Thursday.  The entire 14 minutes was devoted to 2 combat veterans:  Rich Franzis and Bruce Allen.

Franzis — a popular assistant principal, and a reservist — returned last year from a tour of duty in Iraq.

Allen — a longtime Westport resident and special policemen — served decades ago, in World War II.

Prompted by English instructor Dan Geraghty — who served active duty with the 10th Mountain Division, then was an infantry officer with the National Guard — the 2 men talked quietly and honestly about many things:  going over, and coming home.  Honoring dead comrades and friends.  What Memorial Day means today.

Franzis’s and Allen’s experiences were vastly different — and compellingly similar.  They did not glamorize war — in fact, Allen called all wars futile.

They did something even more important:  They made every Staples student think about what this weekend signifies.

Let’s hope they’re not the only ones.

(Click here to see the “Good Morning Staples” Memorial Day tribute — it may take a while to load.  If that doesn’t work, click here first, then on the flag.)

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.”