GARDEN GROVE, Calif. – The fall of Saigon occurred 44 years ago, but the memories of serving overseas in the Vietnam War as a 20-year-old is never far from U.S. Navy Seal Andy McTigue’s mind.

“It’s fascinating to me that it’s been that many years,” said McTigue.

The veteran is part of Project Gratitude which is an annual event put on by Murdy Elementary School in the Garden Grove Unified School District to teach students about the Vietnam War.

The project is a special celebration hosted by the school’s sixth graders who spent the year studying veterans who served for the United States and South Vietnam.

The students interviewed, created artwork, and wrote reports based on what they learned from the following veterans: 

• 99 year-old Lt. Col. Robert J. Friend, World War II, Korea and Vietnam War veteran and one of only 12 remaining Tuskegee Airmen Red Tail pilots 

• De Nguyen, South Vietnam Air Forces Veteran

• 1st Lt. Dan Barlow, U.S. Army Ranger, Vietnam Veteran

• Nhan Van Huynh, Army of the Republic of Vietnam Veteran

• Andy McTigue, U.S. Navy Seal, Vietnam War Veteran

McTigue has participated in the project and shared his story with sixth graders like Makea Adams for the last five years.

Makea is an 11-year-old. She is a granddaughter of a South Vietnamese soldier who served alongside American soldiers. She said her grandfather hasn’t told her much about the war, but she does know how some of her family managed to escape war-torn Vietnam by boat. 

“They actually had many communists shooting down at them, so it took multiple tries to try and get over to America. So instead they took boat with two to three families they didn’t know,” said Makea.

On the anniversary of the fall of Saigon on April 30, the students planned to host their project in front of their family, peers, and community in the multipurpose room of Murdy Elementary from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. The school is located at 14851 Donegal Drive in Garden Grove.

“As they walk off this campus, I hope they learned about the trust and sacrifice they went through that the veterans went through to get through this war,” said Makea.

Project Gratitude brings living history into the classrooms and allows children to honor and give military heroes, like McTigue, the homecoming they deserved more than 40 years ago.