Marine Corps Capt. Jay Vargas and his unit were under heavy enemy fire as they prepared to leave the demilitarized zone separating North and South Vietnam.
Despite suffering from multiple wounds during the attacks in 1968, Vargas refused aid. Instead, the company commander, who hadn’t slept in 36 hours, led his Marines on a counterattack, resulting in hand-to-hand combat.
When the arm of a Marine he had carried to safety was severed, he listened to the soldier’s pleas and went back and found it.
In the end, Vargas not only led his unit to victory on the battlefield, he also led it to safety.
The 1970 Medal of Honor recipient shared his story with educators Thursday during the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation’s Character Development Program at the Killeen Civic and Conference Center.
The program shows educators how to use videotaped vignettes of Medal of Honor recipients to teach character to their students.
“I’m hoping they’ll take this curriculum and incorporate it in whatever school they represent,” Vargas said. “It’s very valuable. Character development is something that I think is a little lacking in our education system.”
Nearly 80 teachers from Killeen, Temple and surrounding cities attended the training, including Florence High School science teacher Debra Reavis.
“I knew that these men had integrity and had courage and had all this, but even after the wars that they fought in, they’re still giving to their communities and their country,” Reavis said. “That’s their character.”
Brett Springston, a retired educator and education specialist at Jostens Corporation, said the training and curriculum material was free to participants.
“It’s an opportunity to listen to and work on character development,” he said.
Reavis said having integrity and courage is important for students to be successful in school and beyond.
Although it might be challenging to teach “jaded” high school students about character in her science class, she plans to share the videotaped vignettes with her students.
“They don’t learn from a book. They learn from people. These (Medal of Honor recipients) are our best examples of character.” Reavis said. “When they actually see these people talking, that’s going to make the difference. It’s not just the teacher up there saying it.”
As Vargas shares the story of his service in Vietnam, he said he hopes teachers apply what they learned in the training to their lesson plans.
“It’s just a good vehicle that helps the young students understand what sacrifice is all about,” he said. “Once they get this going, they’re going to see a bunch of young people become good citizens.”