Veteran 'carried the sorrow; he carried the pain'
By Don Wilkins | Messenger-Inquirer, Owensboro, Ky. (Tribune News Service) | Published: February 6, 2016
Sharon Westerfield didn't see her late husband, Larry Westerfied, receive the honor he deserved for serving his country in Vietnam.
But she will see it in June when her husband, who died in 2012 at age 63, becomes part of the Vietnam Veteran Memorial's In Memory program in Washington, D.C.
Westerfield will be going to the nation's capital to participate in the 18th annual ceremony June 18.
"I feel like he carried Vietnam with him emotionally and physically all of those years," Westerfield said about why she applied to be part of the program. "He carried the sorrow; he carried the pain. I feel like he deserves the recognition as much as those on The Wall because they died quickly."
Larry Westerfield served in Vietnam from 1969 to 1970 as a member of the Army's 14th Engineer Battalion. The Westerfields, of Owensboro, were married in March 1971.
Westerfield said her husband experienced the backlash that came from being a Vietnam soldier.
And because of the way her husband was treated, Westerfield said he tossed his Army duffel bag in the trash not long after returning from Vietnam.
"The protesters threw rotten eggs and tomatoes at him," she said. "So when he came home, he wouldn't even tell anybody he served in Vietnam," Westerfield said. "He just didn't want to talk about it."
According to Westerfield, it would be years later that he would acknowledge he even served in the military.
"He didn't go out and say I served in Vietnam," Westerfield said. "He wore his (Vietnam veteran) hat. And when people would come up to him in a restaurant to shake his hand and thank him, he would cry."
Larry Westerfield was among 3 million Americans who served in Vietnam. In all, there were more than 58,000 U.S. soldiers killed. Their names are on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C.
According to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund's website, the In Memory program is for Vietnam veterans "whose lives were cut short as a result of their service in Vietnam but are not eligible for inscription on The Wall under Department of Defense guidelines. In Memory is a way that all Vietnam veterans can be honored on the National Mall."
For Vietnam veterans who died later, the criteria are post traumatic stress disorder, exposure to Agent Orange and similar chemicals, diabetes, cancer, heart attack and cholangiocarcinoma. An application can be found at www.vvmf.org/InMemoryProgram and inclusion is free.
Westerfield said she doesn't have to attend the In Memory Day ceremony in Washington, D.C., for her husband to be included.
"For me to be there personally is because I'm proud of him," Westerfield said. "I was always proud of him and that he was willing to go and not do like a lot of our friends did and go to Canada. …It's my opportunity to honor what he did."
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