Real-life educator mourned: Glenn Santos taught from experience and the heart
[ Originally published on: Wednesday, July 18, 2007 ]

GRANBY - Much was lost when a boating accident took the life of 58-year-old Glenn Santos; a husband and father, a diligent educator, an avid outdoorsman, a respected friend and colleague, a decorated veteran and the sole survivor of a harrowing combat mission in Vietnam.

'He had a great respect for life and humanity,' said friend and colleague Rob Wilson by telephone Tuesday night.

Wilson is the director of the Veterans Education Project, a group that brings combat veterans to schools to speak to students about the realities of war and combat to help them think critically about war.

Santos would often tell the students about his experience as a helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War. Santos had left the University of Massachusetts in 1967 after a football injury. He was drafted into the Army at 18 and became a helicopter pilot.

In that incident, recounted in a 2000 Hampshire Life article, Santos' helicopter was attempting to take off with three other crewmembers and eight U.S. servicemen aboard.

The chopper took on heavy fire, including rounds that shattered Santos' left arm, and crashed, throwing Santos out one side and rolling over and crushing the 11 other passengers to death.

According to the article, Santos often told students that despite his near-death experience, he'd serve again if called upon.

Santos was an assistant principal at the Wilbraham Avenue campus of the Springfield Academy for Excellence. The principal of the school, Alex Gillat of Amherst, called Santos 'an outstanding educator' and said that he worked tirelessly for the schools.

Santos, of Granby, was fishing on Lake Ontario, N.Y., when the vessel he and friend Raymond Hanley, 68, were in began taking on water and ultimately capsized.

Fellow boaters and the U.S. Coast Guard rescued the two men, who were taken to a nearby hospital where Hanley was treated and released, but Santos was pronounced dead.

Santos leaves behind his wife, Alison, and grown son, Craig.

Wilson said that Santos was someone who didn't talk much about his military service outside of the VEP.

In fact, he said many of his co-workers were unaware of his military service and his experiences during the war.

It was the students Santos spoke to and worked with who really responded to him, Wilson said.

In his role as assistant principal and VEP speaker, Santos worked with youths who are classified as at risk for becoming victims or perpetrators of violence or running into trouble with the law.

'He knew he had to be a firm, consistent authority figure,' Wilson said. 'But he communicated a real empathy and understanding for what (the students) were going through.'

'The kids seemed to intuit that 'This is the kind of guy I have to respect,' Wilson said.

As part of his VEP talks, Santos would often bring the reality of war into the classroom by showing the students the scars and battle damage he suffered to his arm.

'It wasn't bragging,' Wilson said. 'It was telling the kids 'This is what a bullet can do to you.

'Wilson said Santos also seemed to get some therapeutic benefit out of sharing his war experiences with others.

50482.jpg (95315 bytes)

'When you can use a story that powerful and horrific to a good end, maybe you're saving some lives,' Wilson said.

An avid hunter and fisherman, Santos also raised and judged hunting dogs.

He would tell students about times during the war when he saved lives as well.

One story Wilson remembers him telling was flying during a rescue mission, running low on fuel and seeing smoke from a hand-built fire, not the type of smoke that would come from a serviceman's landing flare.

Over the protests of his crew, who thought they might be heading into a North Vietnamese trap, Santos landed and rescued a U.S. serviceman who had built the signal fire after having lost all of his supplies, save for a lighter, in the jungle.

In an email to the Gazette, Wilson wrote, 'The Springfield public school system lost an excellent, hard-working educator and a real leader. VEP lost a great friend and our community has lost an exemplary citizen.'

Details of funeral plans were not available at press time.

Bob Dunn can be reached at