Of the 2,709,918 Americans who served in Vietnam, less than 850,000 are estimated to be alive today, with the youngest American Vietnam veteran’s age approximated to be 60 years old.
March 29 is now designated as National Vietnam War Veterans Day by the Vietnam War Veterans Recognition bipartisan Act of 2017. Forty-seven years have passed since the last U.S. Troops withdrew from Vietnam. Due to the unpopularity of the Vietnam War, Veterans returning home were often met with disdain and did not receive the support or gratitude they deserved for their service to our country. It was a tragic period in our history driven by people’s perceptions of a war so far removed from their daily lives. I believe we have gotten to a place where the American people realize we should be grateful to all the men and women who proudly serve and served this great country, the United States of America.
For me, the Vietnam War and its effects on my family are very personal. My nephew, Larry Sullivan, died a terrible death at the age of 63, from exposure to Agent Orange. Unfortunately our government denied Larry the service related designation of 100% service related disability. This resulted in him losing his business as he was fighting various issues including neuropathy in his hands and feet. He developed cancer and diabetes soon after the neuropathy. Larry spent four years in the Marines and one full year in Vietnam. He was classified as a helicopter gunner, but mostly he was spraying Agent Orange.
In June of 2015, decades after the Vietnam War, the Department of Veterans Affairs acknowledged that Monsanto’s Agent Orange, a dangerous herbicide and dioxin, sprayed over 4.5 million acres of Vietnam is responsible for serious health ailments and neurological damage in a group of as many as 2,100 veterans. The Department of Veterans Affairs had previously denied these allegations. I suspect there are more than 2,100 veterans suffering from illnesses that can be traced to their exposure to Agent Orange. Out of the 2.7 million U.S. service members who served in Vietnam, more than 58,000 were killed and more than 304,000 were wounded. An estimate by the Smithsonian suggests that approximately 271,000 Vietnam veterans may have post-traumatic stress disorder.
There is now a program called “In Memory” for veterans who served in Vietnam and later died because of injuries or illness related to their brave service during an unpopular war. Please go to vvmf.org/In-Memory-Program to find out about the program.
The U.S. flag should be flown every March 29 to honor those who served in Vietnam. It is long past time we give these American heroes the respect they are due. Please proudly raise your American flag on National Vietnam War Veterans Day.
— Judy Sullivan Wise