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'He brings history alive': Vietnam veteran educates, captivates Burke students with real-life experiences

Posted at 7:02 PM, Jun 06, 2023

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — He served our country for 25 years in the Army and served our youth for 20 years as an educator, but his service to others has continued well beyond his retirement.

"We have to make sure we have a computer that can hold a flash drive,” said Omaha Burke High School Social Studies Teacher Randall Howard. “That's our level of preparation, then we just get out of his way and he takes off."

"And he brings history alive," Omaha Burke High School Social Studies Teacher Barb Boltinghouse added.

The entire social studies department at Omaha Burke says Albert “Jeff” Flagg is the greatest Vietnam War primary resource in Omaha.

His presentations are a hot commodity.

"I think this year he did four of my classes and sometimes he does more. Everybody is demanding of his time," Howard said.

"The kids’ eyes just get glued to Jeff, jaws drop to the floor, you see the wheels spinning — I've never seen engagement like that," said Omaha Burke High School Social Studies Teacher Caleb Hale.

"Too great of a guy not to have in our world for one, but too great of a resource not to have in our classroom to expose this to our kids," Omaha Burke Social Studies Teacher Patrick Ryan added.

Each year, students learn about the Vietnam War era in their classes; Flagg's real-life experience as a lieutenant colonel in Vietnam is the capstone.

"I've seen it umpteen times now and there's something new, something tweaked, about how he presents it or the content itself that the students can really relate to," Howard said.

"I tell the funny stories, I tell them the facts, I show them the pictures, the mud, the rain we went through, the heat, the C-rations," Flagg said.

Omaha Burke was introduced to the Purple Heart recipient when he took over the school's JROTC program, leading them to a laundry list of achievements.

"Our numbers went from about 95-100 kids to 225 kids," Flagg said.

"Our JROTC program here is phenomenal and I think Jeff kind of set that all up,” Boltinghouse said. “The colonel did a great job."

He eventually went on to become the Director of JROTC for all of Omaha Public Schools. Flagg served in that role for three years before retiring with his wife.

While he was at Burke, he built a strong relationship with Ryan.

Ryan had served in the Nebraska Air National Guard for 27 years and was still on active duty when the two met. He says the two would talk frequently at school.

“Always a warm reception, always felt great going down there. If I had a bad day I always went to down ROTC.”

Then one day in 2007, Ryan visited Flagg’s room for advice.

"This visit was different. Yeah, I told him I'm going to Iraq," Ryan said with tears in his eyes. “I said, ‘I’m scared. What am I going to do?’”

Ryan says Flagg’s advice, and the Omaha Burke JROTC guidance Flagg gave him before he left, stuck with him his entire time in Iraq.

"You know there were nights where we got hit, rocketed horribly, and his voice was in my head,” he recounts. “Keep moving, account for your people, all the little nuances an old-time military person tells a young one how to survive."

When Ryan returned home it was Flagg’s voice that he needed to hear again.

"You know, I'd been rocketed two nights before (returning) and here I am, people are going about their day, this is surreal. How do I deal with this? Jeff brought it all back in,” Ryan said. “He re-centered me, and I can't put a price on that. In some ways, he saved my soul."

"It's important for them to know that there is life after. It's a matter of how you look at it," Flagg said.

While it's important to know there's life after the military, it's also important to remember history and the sacrifices made before us.

Something Flagg, who received four Bronze Stars and the Vietnamese Service Ribbon from his duty in Vietnam, won't let be forgotten.

"Who else is going to tell the story? I'm becoming a forgotten breed, I mean, really. Vietnam guys — dying like crazy. And I think I'm here for a reason."

Flagg has presented to other local schools and organizations as well. On top of his presentations, he volunteers to speak with veterans in hospice care to remind them how important and appreciated their service was.

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