Menlo Faculty Members Reflect on Military Connections in Honor of Veterans Day


Head librarian Cathy Rettburg’s father in law was a flight navigator who flew combat missions against Germany. The 390th Bombardment Group was based in England and had one of the best bombing accuracies in the 8th Air Force. Photo Courtesy of Cathy Rettburg.

Ashley Grady, Staff Writer

Veterans Day brings up a feeling of appreciation, not just for those with personal connections to those who have served, but for all. The holiday is observed every November 11th to honor those who have served in the United States Armed Forces. The holiday originated in 1919 as Armistice Day under President Woodrow Wilson on the one-year anniversary of the end of World War Ⅰ. Many members of the Menlo community have connections to those who have served or are currently serving. They like to take the day as an opportunity to think about and show appreciation for their loved ones.

At assembly on Nov. 12, 2019, seniors Adam Kasser and Avery Patel gave a presentation regarding ways to serve veterans in honor of the holiday. According to Dean of Students Tony Lapolla, personally, he is making an effort and wants to get involved in these service opportunities to honor his father, who was drafted at age 18. His father had never been outside of his hometown in Connecticut; then, in a matter of weeks, he was fighting overseas in New Guinea in World War Ⅱ.

Nurse Joan Barada’s father also fought in World War Ⅱ. By the time he retired, he held the rank of one-star general. He enlisted the week after Pearl Harbor was bombed and was then stationed on Tinian Island and Okinawa participating in the Manhattan Project. Liberating prisoner of war camps made a big impression on him, which he would talk about, according to Barada. “We were raised to be very respectful to be a citizen of the United States, respecting the flag, and respecting the service of others,” Barada said.

As a Roman-Catholic, Barada and her husband, whose parents both were involved in the Korean War, go to mass on Veterans Day, honoring their loved ones with pride for their service. Barada also participates in the organization Wreaths Across America. Volunteers lay wreaths across graves in Arlington National Cemetery and over 1,600 other locations all over the United States, making sure that no grave is left without a wreath.

Philosophy teacher and boys water polo coach Jack Bowen has strong familial ties to the Navy. Both his father and grandfather were commanders on Coronado Island for a large portion of their lives. “I still remember finding audio cassettes of his actual flights during the Vietnam war and hearing him on the radio, the gunfire coming out of the helicopter, and what it was actually like,” wrote Bowen in an email. “The photos of him in front of his [helicopter] with his team in Vietnam are just amazing to see and to realize what he did and what he was willing to sacrifice.”

A common theme between Bowen, Lapolla, and Barada is that their relatives did not often discuss their active military presence. Still, it clearly had a big effect on them, according to the three.

John Norris, from the Upper School Academic Support team, considers his best friend Robert Spears, a Marine, to be his personal hero. For Norris, having his friend sent into front line combat in Iraq and Afghanistan was beyond scary, and now, having a personal connection has heightened his appreciation for those fighting and making so many sacrifices overseas. Norris makes sure to show extra appreciation by calling Spears on the 4th of July and Memorial Day.

Math and Computer Science teacher Michael Thibodeaux’s father and two of his uncles enlisted after Pearl Harbor. “They thought it was the right thing to do. I think that whole generation went to war, and they are rightfully called the Greatest Generation,” Thibodeaux said. 

“[Veterans Day] is very personal for me because I think of what my father did and how heroic it seems to me and how much I admire him. I hope I can emulate his noble abilities and pass them on to my children,” Thibodeaux said.