The Harris Heroes
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By Amanda Batista, Ashley Sealy, Minahil Khan, and Faaria Ahmed
Typically, at Townsend Harris, teachers are known for assigning excessive amounts of homework and giving frequent pop quizzes. For some of them, the stakes of life before THHS were considerably higher; mathematics teacher Timothy Connor, chemistry teacher Adel Kadamani, and custodians Luis Perez and Mario Vasquez have each served in branches of the military and chose to share their stories.
“I remember thinking, ‘My God, I could’ve been dead.’ My life was saved. That changes you, kid. That was something, I will never forget.”
Chemistry teacher Adel Kadamani spent five years of his life serving in the Lebanese Civil War during the years 1975-1980. “People were getting killed and I had to enlist to push them back and protect our families,” Mr. Kadamani responded when asked why he enlisted in the first place. After serving for five years, he decided to pursue the road of teaching. Mr. Kadamani said that he would not go back into the war, although it has changed him for the better. He said, “I did my time and now I need to take care of my family.” He also said that being in the military changed him by improving his “responsibility, discipline, hard work and interactions with people.” The war also changed his perspective on life, and now he sees that, “Life is a gift, we have to cherish it and be thankful for everyday and never take things for granted.”
“It gave me more discipline and motivation and more pride in the United States.”
Another custodial staff member who is also a veteran is Mario Vasquez.
Mr. Vasquez, who works after school hours, spent five years stationed in North Carolina as a part of the Marine Corp between the years 1980 and 1985, Mario worked with the main office in the Marine Corps Air Station located at Cherry Point. When asked about his experience, all Mario had to say was, “[I] love the way all the Marines stuck together, came to you and gave you a hand.”
Mario confirmed that joining the Marine Corps changed him for the better.
Upon learning of the service of those like Mr. Vasquez, other staff members seemed impressed. Ms. Figelman responded “I feel honored to be working with men that served and helped us [and other counties] become a free nation.”
English teacher Robert Babstock had the same idea, and said, “I wish there were more veteran teachers in this school who have ‘walked the walk’.”
“I was a 19-year-old kid in the middle of a war.”
Handyman Luis Perez joined the Air Force in 1967 at 17 years old as a way to stay out of trouble. Then starting in 1969, he served for four years in the Vietnam War.
He left service in 1971. “I was fed up with the military. I had no freedom. I wanted to grow my hair long; it was the age of love and freedom,” Mr. Perez stated when asked why he ended his service. Even though he said he was tired of serving, Mr. Perez reinforced that the military changed him for the better. “It made a man out of me. When I was 17, I was a rebel; [the military] opened my eyes.” Mr. Perez also added that the military made him more outgoing and open.
Like Mr. Kadamani, he would not go back to serve. Instead, Mr. Perez would like to revisit some of the countries he travelled to while serving, like Thailand.However, he asserted that he has joined the Townsend Harris family to stay. He enjoys his job at Townsend. “I like being around the kids,” he added.
Many school staff members do not know about Mr. Perez’s part in the U.S. Air Force. Dean Robin Figelman was astonished. “We have veterans in this school?” When enlightened about Mr. Perez and his past life she responded “I’m glad he came out alive.”
Hector Benitez also shared his appreciation for Mr. Perez’s service saying, “I wish I would’ve had the opportunity to serve our country [as he did].”