“Its Memorial Day, America,” she said. “Do you hear the flags snapping in the wind? Theres a big sale at Macys and theres a big parade in Washington for the veterans. But its not the American flag or the sound of drums I hear — I hear a helicopter coming in. I smell the burning of human flesh.”
“Its Thomas, America, the young black kid from Atlanta, my patient, burned by an exploding gas tank.”
These fallen heroes represent the character of a nation who has a long history of patriotism and honor – and a nation who has fought many battles to keep our country free from threats of terror. — Michael N. Castle
As the nation remembers those who served and didnt come home, she emphasized the lengths of sacrifice from service members in the Vietnam War — a war she personally opposed as a college student and served in anyway, eventually earning the rank of captain. Akers has since become an award-winning nurse practitioner in Portland, Maine.
A mans country is not a certain area of land, of mountains, rivers, and woods, but it is a principle and patriotism is loyalty to that principle. – – George William Curtis
“I remember how [Thomas] courage kept him alive that day, America and I clung to his only finger and whispered over and over again how proud you were of him, America — and he died,” she wrote.
Akers emotional account includes other graphic examples of soldiers and victims of war. She wrote about Robbie, a teen who sat next to her on a plane to Vietnam. The 17-year-old had shrapnel rip through his heart. It was the first time he was away from home, according to his friends who spoke with her at the time.
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She concluded her letter expressing anger at the country for sending her and “thousands of other men and women who loved you” to serve in Vietnam.
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“America, you never told me that Id have to put so many of your sons, the boys next door, in body bags. You never told me…” she wrote.
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Linda Easterday, of Martinez, holds a frame containing medals and memorabilia of her husband Vietnam veteran Ernest Easterday at her home in Martinez, Calif., on Friday, May 24, 2019. Easterday passed away at the age of 69 on December 8, 2016. He served as a Sgt. E-5 in the U.S. Army in 1968 from March to October. Easterday died from cancer caused by exposure to Agent Orange during his tour of duty in Vietnam. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)
Those who have long enjoyed such privileges as we enjoy forget in time that men have died to win them. – – Franklin D. Roosevelt
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund's "In Memory" program honors Vietnam veterans who returned home and later died as a result of their service. These veterans are not eligible for inscription on The Wall under Department of Defense guidelines. In Memory is a way that Vietnam veterans can be honored on the National Mall. (Courtesy of Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund)
True patriotism isnt cheap. Its about taking on a fair share of the burden of keeping America going. – – Robert Reich
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Linda Easterday, of Martinez, holds a photograph of her husband Vietnam veteran Ernest Easterday at her home in Martinez, Calif., on Friday, May 24, 2019. Easterday passed away at the age of 69 on December 8, 2016. He served as a Sgt. E-5 in the U.S. Army in 1968 from March to October. Easterday died from cancer caused by exposure to Agent Orange during his tour of duty in Vietnam. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)
Vietnam veteran Ronald Lamboy with his daughter Joy Lamboy in a family photo. Ronald died of cirrhosis from exposure to Agent Orange and is part of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund's In Memory program. (Courtesy of Lamboy family)
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Vietnam veteran Ronald James Lamboy is seen in his uniform during the war and later in life. Ronald died of cirrhosis from exposure to Agent Orange and is part of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund's In Memory program. (Courtesy of Lamboy family)
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Vietnam veteran David Silva in a recent photo. Silva is part of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund's In Memory program. (Courtesy of Lamboy family)
Archive photos of Ronald James Lamboy during the Vietnam War. Lamboy died many years later of cirrhosis from exposure to Agent Orange and is part of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund's In Memory program. (Courtesy of Lamboy family)
Vietnam veteran Thomas R. Taylor in a family photo. Taylor is part of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund's In Memory program. (Courtesy of Lamboy family)
Ten feet tall at its highest point, its jet-black granite polished to a mirror shine, the Vietnam War Memorial honors soldiers who lost their lives or went missing during the years-long conflict in Southeast Asia. But thousands of names are missing: Veterans who made it home and later died of physical wounds and other causes related to their service.
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Now those who fought for their country but did not die on the field of combat are being recognized as part of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund Honor Roll. The In Memory program memorializes those who died from diseases linked to their service, including PTSD-related suicide and complications from exposure to the toxic herbicide Agent Orange. This year, 534 men are being added to the list, including eight from the Bay Area.
“There are so many veterans left with the effects of their service for a lifetime and are just overlooked. They deserve to be acknowledged, said Joy Lamboy, of Walnut Creek, whose father Ronald Lamboy is being honored this year. He died from cirrhosis related to Agent Orange exposure in 2018.
The men on the Honor Roll will have their photos displayed alongside The Wall That Heals, the VVMF’s traveling replica of the Vietnam War Memorial wall, and will have their own page on the program’s website. They also will be memorialized during a ceremony at the wall in Washington D.C. on June 15. Every year, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund gathers thousands of family members together and reads every name on the list. The application is simple and can be found at the same website.
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This is a recognition of people’s service, to let people know theyre important, that they served their country, said Carol Taylor, of San Francisco, whose husband, Thomas Taylor, passed away last year after a battle with prostate cancer related to exposure to Agent Orange. He also will be added to the Honor Roll this year.
After coming home, many veterans faced scorn and anger for their role in the deeply unpopular conflict, often while living with post traumatic stress disorder, injuries and other problems stemming from tours of duty. Many families fought unsuccessfully to have loved ones included on the official Memorial Wall, which is controlled by the Department of Defense.
“A lot of these people may have appealed to the DOD, and the DOD denied their appeal,” said Heidi Zimmerman, vice president of programs and communication with the VVMF. Her own father is on the Honor Roll, having died of Agent Orange-related prostate cancer. “We always say, for every name on the wall, there’s a whole family that was forever changed by that loss.”
The herbicide Agent Orange was used to strip leaves from trees in the thick jungles where the Vietcong hid. But when it was dumped from planes, it coated anyone in the jungle indiscriminately. It wasn’t until years later that the government acknowledged exposure can cause cancer.
He was sprayed with Agent Orange — they were almost swimming in it, Taylor said. “It coated their uniforms, he couldnt see out of his glasses, it was in his food. It was everywhere.”
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Linda Easterdays husband, Ernest Easterday, was medevaced out of Vietnam after breaking his back when his personnel carrier ran over a landmine. Alongside residual pain from his injury, his service had a lasting effect on his relationships.
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You never get rid of it. You cant control the nightmares. But its not something you bring up in conversations, Easterday said. When people would ask him what it was like over there, hed say, It was hot, man. It was like 120 degrees.
Lamboy remembers her dad as a wonderful family man and hard worker, despite his struggles with mental and physical health.
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Growing up, I didnt look at him as having a mental illness. He was my dad. He was invincible to me, she said. But once they leave the war zone, the war never really ends. They come home with so many internal wounds.
A 2015 study by JAMA Psychiatry estimated 271,000 Vietnam veterans suffer from PTSD. Those who served in the military continue to be 1.5 times more likely to take their own lives, according to a 2018 report by the Department of Veterans Affairs, which also found the rate of suicide among younger veterans has increased by as much as 10 percent in recent years. Those who regularly use VA services are less at risk.
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Vietnam War veterans and their survivors often are eligible for partial or full disability benefits if diagnosed with one of the many diseases the VA acknowledges are caused by Agent Orange exposure, including type 2 diabetes, Parkinsons disease and over a dozen kinds of cancer. Veterans with PTSD, too, are often eligible.
Lamboy and her brother spent years helping their dad navigate the bureaucracy, including applying for disability benefits. Throughout their interactions with the government, including during his treatment for cirrhosis, Ronald Lamboy’s family served as staunch advocates, always pushing for him to get the best care.
I honestly dont think my dad would have made it as far as he did if it werent for my brother, my mom and myself, she said. I know a lot of veterans arent fortunate enough to have that. If you dont have someone to advocate for you, you could easily fall through the cracks.
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Easterday is particularly looking forward to spending time with the other Honor Roll families in D.C.
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You can really talk with other people who have been in the same situation. They understand. You dont even have to say anything — you just click, she said.
The Honor Roll program is an extension of her lifelong efforts to honor her husbands service and to make him feel proud.
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It was so bad when they came home because of all the demonstrations. Most of them were drafted, they had no choice, and they had to go into a situation where they might not come home, Easterday said. When he came home, he hid all his medals away. I was like, this is B.S. man, you fought for your country, were going to get them out and hang them on the wall.