WASHINGTON — Capt. Walker Paul Fox’s name will likely never be engraved on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.
Fox, an Army helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War, died in October 2004 of a heart attack at age 59. But for 26 years after he came home from the war, he continued to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and other aftereffects, his wife, Carol, said.
So when Carol Fox placed a picture of her husband at the Vietnam Wall as part of the In Memory Day ceremony on Thursday, it was another bit of closure for her and the families of 96 veterans offered tribute.
“It’s a healing process,” said Carol Fox, who flew in from Texas for the ceremony. “This is one of the last and biggest things I could ever do for him to honor him and his service. I thought Vietnam veterans were a forgotten group, and they’re not.”
Now in its 14th year, the In Memory program honors Vietnam veterans whose deaths do not meet Department of Defense criteria for their names to be added to the wall.
Most have died, years after the war, from various forms of cancer believed caused by Agent Orange.
“Sadly, some of the things that ultimately killed these men were things that were gotten through their service,” said Capt. Denis Faherty, who left the military in 2008 as the last Navy veteran from the Vietnam era. “These men who were inducted today, on a routine basis, would relive some of the horrors of war.
“It absolutely is a bit of closure, and it’s recognition for what these men did,” Faherty said. “To get recognition that they never really got when they first came back to the United States, is so very important to them and the families.”
Lt. Col. Charlie Novotny’s father-in-law, Larry Dean Rodman, an artilleryman in Vietnam, died at age 59 in December 2008 after a four-year battle with colon cancer.
Rodman had served two years in the central region of Vietnam where military records showed that Agent Orange was being used, Novotny said.
"We have more wounded veterans, both physically and mentally, than you have that died in the war,” Novotny said. “They may not have fallen on the ground on foreign soil, but internally, the struggles they go through are sometimes harder than if they had died overseas.”
Rodman’s name was among the 96 that were read aloud by family and friends on the east knoll of the memorial.
Others have died of PTSD-related suicides, according to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, which built the wall and started the In Memory program to honor those whose names won’t be carved into the granite.
The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that, on average, 18 veterans commit suicide each day, and a recent Pentagon report that military suicides have spiked this year, averaging nearly one per day.
“The Taliban is not killing one soldier a day in Afghanistan,” said Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund founder and president Jan Scruggs. “So people need to understand that the impact of war is significant on the human psyche.”