An Educator’s Take on Last Plane Out of Saigon
As I attended an educational conference earlier this year, I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Richard Pena and learning about Last Plane Out of Saigon. I was very intrigued by the preview of the book that I received and immediately started reading it when I got home. I quickly found that I couldn’t put it down. The experiences that Mr. Pena wrote about from his days in a South Vietnam operating room were raw, discomforting, and honest. I wrestled with what I had learned in school about the Vietnam War and the events that surrounded it, and the reflections and thoughts of a man who experienced it on a daily basis. It caused me to consider and ponder the current situation that we find ourselves in as a nation and gave me a deeper appreciation for those who served in the military during such a contentious time. As I put the book down I thought to myself, “All of my students need to read this”. I knew that an account like the one in Last Plane Out of Saigon would be engaging, provide essential content about the Vietnam War, and would challenge the students to think critically about Mr. Pena’s experiences and on warfare in general.
I immediately contacted Mr. Pena and asked him if he wouldn’t mind being my guest at an upcoming professional development day that I was organizing for my social studies teachers. I was thrilled when he accepted and I was even more excited when I contacted my teachers and found that they were extremely interested in this unique opportunity. My plan was to allow Mr. Pena to share his book with my teachers and give them a first-hand account of his experiences from an Army operating room during the Vietnam War. I would then describe how his book could be effectively utilized in our classrooms. During his presentation, Mr. Pena was honest, insightful, and very engaging. My teachers were left excited to read the book and to figure out how they could use passages to teach and illustrate the Vietnam Era curriculum that they were preparing to teach during the last quarter of the school year.
As I followed up with my teachers about Mr. Pena and Last Plane Out of Saigon, I was overwhelmed with positive feedback. They loved his presentation, and loved his book. I know that the students we teach will be equally enthusiastic about learning history using this book. It makes history real, helps them internalize the information, and challenges them to think about things bigger than their classroom, school, or community. Not only will it engage students in a history lesson, it will help to create responsible and patriotic citizens.
I am grateful for Mr. Pena’s willingness to collaborate with me and share his incredible experiences with my humble gathering of young teachers. I hope that other educators can see the important contribution that Last Plane Out of Saigon can make to their curriculum and instruction. It is definitely a unique account that will enrich and challenge their students.