Friends, relatives speak out while honoring veterans of Vietnam War
WASHINGTON — Eleven years ago, when Vietnam War veteran William Carroll Herman applied for an insurance policy, he was told that the protein level in his blood was the highest the tester had ever seen.
He had amyloidosis, a form of blood cancer.
A problem from the treatment standpoint was that amyloidosis wasn’t among the diseases officially linked to Agent Orange exposure until December 2007 — a month and a half after the commander of the Taylorsville, N.C., Disabled American Veterans chapter died at age 66.
Herman’s sister, Faye Shew, was among the dozens of relatives and friends gathered Monday on a rise above the Vietnam Veterans Memorial to honor those who died as a result of their service in Vietnam but don’t qualify to have their names engraved on the wall.
The 10th annual In Memory Day ceremony featured remarks by Jan Scruggs, founder and president of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, and Richard C. Schneider, executive director of government affairs for the Non-Commissioned Officers Association of the USA. Singer/songwriter Chuck Price also performed “The Unsung Heroes,” a song that has become the unofficial theme song of the event.
But the focus was on the fallen, especially the 75 veterans who were honored at the event for the first time this year. And one theme that carried through the comments of many who read the names was the horrible effects of Agent Orange, and the problems that those Vietnam veterans exposed to it and their families have encountered over the years in trying to get recognition of a connection and adequate treatment.
In his speech, Schneider told the families that their government had let their loved ones down, and Stephanie Fairfield didn’t have to be convinced. Her fiance, Arthur Howard Kidney, died last May of diabetes, thought to be linked to Agent Orange exposure.
“I’m angry,” Fairfield said after the ceremony. “He was only 57 years old. He was very, very special. He enlisted at 17; his mother had to sign him in. He did two tours of Vietnam.”
Since Kidney’s death, Fairfield says, she has weathered a bureaucratic storm centering around payments for his treatment. But on Monday, that was secondary to honoring a man who was a father figure to her grown children. “He loved his country,” she said. “He supported the troops.”
Also there were Clifford Briggs, Sr., and his daughter, Jeannine Lanphear. The New Jersey residents drove down and braved the rain to honor their son and brother, Clifford Briggs Jr., who died in 2005. Lanphear said that while these veterans didn’t die in Vietnam, “it’s a nice way to remember the sacrifices they made and how they suffered when they came home.”