MONTVILLE, NJ – After being delayed by snow, the Lazar Middle School held their Veterans Day commemoration on Nov. 29, inviting area veterans to speak to the school’s 8th graders while also honoring the vets for their service.

Eight veterans spoke to the students about their experiences in wars ranging from WWII to Afghanistan, while first being welcomed in the newly renovated media center by music teacher Janice Scharf’s instrumental students playing various selections. The veterans were welcomed into their respective classrooms by a “clap-in,” in which the students lined the halls and clapped while the vets walked through the halls, which were lined with “thank you” posters.

Tom Mazzaccaro, who is a Montville resident and former director of the Montville Township water and sewer authority, as well as being a former member of the Board of Education, spoke to a class of 8th graders about his experience in the Navy during the Vietnam War.

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“Most veterans have honored their country by serving, but if you talk to them, they do not believe in war – they don’t have a good feeling about it,” he told the students. “I have not been in combat like some of my friends from the VFW. But when you experience war, you experience your friends getting hurt severely, and you will always ask your leadership to find a way not to go to war.”

He said he enlisted in the military since he knew he would be drafted, and chose the Navy. Being drafted would mean a two-year commitment, while enlisting meant four years.

“I wanted to go to school and I didn’t want to sleep on the ground,” he said. “I wasn’t ready to go to school after high school. The Navy offered me that schooling.”

Mazzaccaro was excited to leave his home town of Rutherford, but soon regretted it.

“I couldn’t wait to leave home to go to boot camp, but after two days, I was sorry,” he told the students. “At home, your mom does everything. At boot camp you’re on your own –  you’re always marching, you’re in school, you have to wash your own clothes, you learn how to shoot guns…It’s only nine weeks but it’s a very hard nine weeks. But when you’re finished, you feel good.”

He was on a submarine, which was “not very large,” but he got off very quickly because he was claustrophobic and didn’t like it.

“Life in the Navy wasn’t bad – the food was good, you always had a shower, except, you never knew when it might end,” he said.

Mazzaccaro said after boot camp, he went to school for six months to become an electrician on a ship. He then was assigned to a submarine tender, which is a large ship that tends to submarines, supplying and supporting them. They carry food, fuel, torpedoes, and other supplies to replenish the needs of the submarines.

Mazzaccaro explained that he was involved with the Cuban Missile Crisis, on a ship that was defending the U.S. near Cuba. He said he never picked up a gun, but “we were all in harm’s way,” due to the nuclear weaponry on the island. He said that in the Navy you worked and were always doing something, so they didn’t realize that the Cuban Missile Crisis was happening since there was no time to read newspapers and there wasn’t a lot of communication.

“But being there, you came to the realization that this was serious, seeing the other ships, the airplanes…” he said.

Overall, Mazzaccaro found his military time to be extremely positive.

“I learned self discipline which was very important,” he said. “I also learned what was important in life. I went in a kid and came back a man. And today men and women do the same. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I encourage men and women to do the same – some sort of service to the country – and grow up. They take too long to grow up.”

After the veterans spoke to the 8th graders, a luncheon was served for them, accompanied by a slide show depicting the Lazar students and VFW members replacing flags on veterans’ graves together at the Montville Township cemeteries. The sixth grade chorus under the direction of Kathy Zajac sang two songs for the veterans, including, “This Land is Your Land.”

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