BUCKHANNON — On March 29 of each year, we acknowledge the service of over 2.5 million men and women who served in the Vietnam War. Vietnam War Veterans Day originated in 2012, but it did not become an official day of recognition until President Trump signed the Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Act of 2017. This established that day as one when the U.S. flag should be proudly displayed. That day was chosen because the last U.S. combat troops departed Vietnam on March 29, 1973.
During the period designated as the Vietnam War—November 1, 1955 to May 15, 1975—a total of 58,318 died or are still missing in action. While injured totals are said to be over 303,000 (half which required hospital care), the real number is far greater. That number does not include the unseen injuries either, which include both medical and mental problems stemming from service in Vietnam.
Agent Orange, the defoliant sprayed throughout the region, has been affecting Vietnam veterans for decades and an untold number of them have died as a result. Agent Orange exposure has been identified as the cause for a great many afflictions. It has also been linked to birth defects, so the children and grandchildren of these veterans have also been affected. Even today, the list of health conditions associated with Agent Orange exposure is growing! Three were added just in the past year!
Additionally, PTSD within the ranks of Vietnam veterans is far higher than what was thought to be the case in the 1970s. This has led to their daily lives being affected in a variety of ways from small to large. Treatments used have all too often had unintended outcomes as well.
The names of those who have died since the end of the war from suicide and Agent Orange are not listed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial but, like those whose names are on the Memorial, it was their service in Southeast Asia that led to their leaving us all too soon. A small number of names have been added to the wall since its original construction, as their deaths were attributed to wounds suffered in Vietnam.
A quarter of those who served were draftees, and whether volunteer or draftee, these men and women came from all regions and demographics. And just like history has shown us, they were fighting for their nation, but even more so for one another.
Currently, estimates of Vietnam Veterans still living range from 600,000 to 850,000. There is no definitive way to determine the actual number, but it is rapidly declining as their ages range from early 60s to the 80s.
The Vietnam War caused a big rift within our country as huge anti-war groups formed and organized very public displays in opposition to the war. While it did not affect the dedication of the individual service member in their devotion to their duties, it was a disheartening thing to see when you returned home.
When they returned to “the world”, which is what we called the USA, they were not greeted warmly around the country. In fact, all too often they were met with anger, disgust, and disrespect. The fact that it took until 2012 to have received acknowledgement from our leaders, and another 5 years for official acknowledgment, is not how our nation should treat those who defend our country. Regardless of where they do it, or the nations view of the war they fought, honoring them should never be a point of contention. Thankfully, todays service members, many of whom are grandchildren of Vietnam Veterans, are treated with the respect and dignity they deserve.
It’s wonderful to receive a “Thank You for Your Service” as a veteran and we thank you for the recognition. But if you cross paths with a Vietnam Veteran (hats are a giveaway), consider giving them something they didn’t get those many years ago. Simply look them in the eye and say, “Welcome Home.”
The following list of those who died in Vietnam with ties to Upshur County are inscribed on a monument at Heavner Cemetery in Buckhannon:
Everett Austin Currence – Marine Corps
Ronald Philip Dean – Marine Corps
William Dely – Marine Corps
Ronald Lee Fenstermacher – Marine Corps
Isaac Paul Huffman – Army
Raymond Dale Kesling – Army
Ronald Lee Kesling – Marines Corps
Billy Wayne Rapp – Army
Lesley Wayne Reed – Army
William Lewis Reger – Army
Cecil Y. Ware – Army
Leslie R. Groves – branch unknown