A room full of high school JROTC cadets listened intently this week as former U.S. Air Force Capt. Bill Arcuri, a former B-52 pilot, talked about escaping from a plane that was shot down over North Vietnam in 1972, and subsequently being taken as a prisoner of war.
|JROTC students from Fort Pierce Westwood High School experience what it's like to sit in a restored Huey helicopter during the ROTC Leadership Conference at Palm Beach Atlantic University this week.|
The Jupiter resident and West Point graduate said he never regretted joining the armed forces or enduring 55 days in the notorious P.O.W. prison known as the Hanoi Hilton.
“As far as I was concerned, if I saved one American life by doing what I did … it was worth it,” he told about 80 students who were gathered at Palm Beach Atlantic University during the University’s annual ROTC Leadership Conference.
Arcuri was on a panel with several other veterans who spoke and took questions from the students: retired U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Wayne P. Jackson; former Warrant Officer Bill Jeczalik, who was awarded the Silver Star; former Huey Crew Chief Curt Rich, who served in Vietnam; retired U.S. Army Sgt. Wayne Jackson, who served in Desert Storm; and Mike Carroll, former Chinook Crew Chief with the Hillclimbers in Vietnam.
The veterans are involved in Project 425, a group that has helped restore a Huey helicopter that saw nearly 2,000 combat hours in Vietnam. Project 425 has brought the helicopter to schools, parades and other events.
The helicopter was featured prominently on PBA’s Rinker Green during the leadership conference, along with a vintage Jeep, a Humvee and a rock climbing wall.
In addition to sharing their individual stories, the speakers offered encouragement to the students, who are involved in JROTC programs through their high schools. “The lessons you learn in this program will suit you very well in civilian life,” said Gen. Jackson, who spent 37 years serving with the U.S. Army, Air Force and Navy.
Among the students participating in the event were cadets from Port St. Lucie, Fort Pierce Westwood, Seminole Ridge and Fort Pierce Central high schools.