A busload of High School North students who are studying the novel The Things They Carried visited the Protectors of Freedom monument at Bey Lea Park in Toms River March 26. It was an opportunity to reflect on the art of war, and how we convey our stories.

Sculptor Brian Hanlon Helps Guide Reflections

March 26, 2019-- Students from High School North visited the Protectors of Freedom monument at Bey Lea Park today as part of NEA Big Read.

The monument, commissioned by the Jay and Linda Grunin Foundation and unveiled in the summer of 2017, was constructed by famed sculptor and Toms River resident Brian Hanlon, who was on hand to discuss his inspiration with students.

Protectors of Freedom reflects every conflict from 1917 to today, depicted through six, eight-foot bronze sculptures, including a woman nurse serving in the Vietnam War, and figures representing World War I, World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam, and the Middle East.

Braving the cold and windy, albeit sunny weather, students from the English classes of HSN teacher Erika Kashman-Gellis were on hand to observe, reflect, and converse with Hanlon. The field trip was a powerful extension of the novel The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien, a Vietnam War epic that students are reading and studying for NEA Big Read.

What proved particularly relevant and symbolic for students with regard to the novel, in addition to the sculptures representing Vietnam, was one depicting a World War II soldier carrying a wounded friend. As Hanlon explained, in addition to its literal interpretation, the statue also symbolizes a young man "carrying on his back 'the greatest generation.'"

It was apropos, then, that as a gift to students, Hanlon created a miniature version of that statue, which he presented to HSN Principal Ed Keller, Ms. Kashman-Gellis, and her students. The statue will now be prominently displayed at High School North as a memento of the day's experience.

The district worked directly with the Jay and Linda Grunin Foundation to make the student site visit possible, and the foundation's reps were in attendance, along with school and district administrators.

This Thursday, March 28, the district’s 2018-2019 NEA Big Read program will conclude with a keynote event featuring Tim O’Brien.

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