From the time I was learning to walk until the day he passed, my father told me stories about his time in Vietnam. I loved nothing more than to sit in his living room and have him show me slides, reel to reel motion videos, pictures and old battle wounds. I can still hear the slide machine make that distinct noise when it turns. Thus, my obsession with the Vietnam war and its veterans began. I became so enthralled with it, I minored in the war at college.
The 18th engineer brigade was deployed in 1965 to Vietnam to establish and build headquarters and build roads for the military to use. In 1965-68 the 18th Engineer Combat Brigade deployed to Cam Ranh Bay, a very hostile environment on the southeast coast of Vietnam. This was my father’s brigade. The soldiers were responsible for building tanks, airfields, bridges, houses for the Vietnamese people, assisting in search and destroy missions, and defense operations for the 101st Airborne. The term “search and destroy” was rarely used when broadcast radios reported to the United States. It seemed too aggressive and sadistic for the American people. But the tasks they were asked to do on the Vietnamese people were indeed violent.
During one of these missions is where my father was injured jumping from a helicopter 6 feet off the ground whilst it was under heavy fire. In getting him to safety, agent orange was deployed to the wrong coordinates and dropped in their area, nearly missing them. At that time, it was thought safe to use with little to no side effects. Making a timely recovery, my father was back on the front lines for the 18th engineer brigade just in time for him to receive an honorable award from the President of the United States for his duties and actions in times of chaos.
Coming home in 1971, he did not receive a warm welcome, like most Vietnam veterans at that time. The war had torn my father’s health and family apart. My father developed a drug addiction while he was deployed, and it continued when arriving home. He always said it helped him forget the brutality of war and the pain it caused him. Thinking it was the drugs making him sick, he ignored the incoming signs of agent orange poisoning. For decades he suffered through 6 major heart attacks, eye problems, skin issues and so on. In order to receive medical treatment for the agent orange poisoning, he had to prove it. He tried to explain to young doctors who wouldn’t understand. They would say he wasn’t affected by it. I sat with him and a doctor once and listened as they spoke. I was dumbfounded how nonchalant and dismissive they were towards my father’s requests. The doctors didn’t push him to get help elsewhere, or give him any other advice. So he gave up. Just like that, years after his sacrifice, blood, sweat and tears for his country, he didn’t receive any help.
He passed away from his 7th major heart attack at the young age of 58 in 2004, while still battling nightmares, health issues, pain and drug addiction. He never received compensation from the government for his time in the Army, being injured and being in combat. After his death, I was able to fight and prove to the VA board that he indeed suffered greatly from agent orange poisoning and PTSD. I wanted no compensation for the loss of my father, instead more help for those still alive and battling with PTSD. I am a strong supporter of all our veterans. I was born to be an advocate for the unseen and unheard. My heart aches even thinking about any veteran suffering or thinking of suicide because of the lack of support and help. As a nation we need to step up for the men and women who risk everything to fight for this country. Have you ever sat down with a WWII, Vietnam, or Iraqi Freedom veteran and just listened to their story? Some are harrowing, some are filled with heroic tales of long battles and hunger, some of love and passion. Sometimes all they need is someone to talk to. Your shoulder costs nothing for a veteran to lean on. Written in memory of my grandfathers, Father, Brother, Father-in-law and friends. Thank you for your sacrifices, rest well soldiers.
Amanda Walsh - Greenhouse Assistant