Losing someone you love is one of the hardest things you will ever experience. Knowing their life has been cut short as a result of them being exposed to deadly toxins during their military service makes their death even harder to bear. Vietnam War Veterans never received their ticker-tape parade or even a “Thank You for your service” message when they returned home from jungles of Southeast Asia. As the daughter of a Vietnam War veteran, I witnessed first-hand the agony my dad experienced after surviving the war. Looking back, I can see how he suffered from undiagnosed survivors’ guilt and PTSD. Although, no one in my family realized it at the time.
My dad was one of more than 3 million military personnel served in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. More than 58,000 of them never came home. Each one is a man, woman, friend, son, daughter, brother, sister, nephew, niece, boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, wife, uncle, and aunt who never returned alive to their loved ones.
The names of 58,268 men and eight women are engraved in the polished black granite of the Vietnam Memorial Wall highlighting those who gave the ultimate sacrifice during their military service. My dad, Carl D. Long, considered himself lucky. After his tour in Vietnam, he came home safe and sound. Or so we all thought.
In late May 2013, my dad who served in the 169th Engineering Battalion from 1970 – 1971, was diagnosed with T-Cell Lymphoma. It manifested with him suffering from night sweats, dark circular dime to quarter-sized lesions on his back, and a loss of balance. This cancer attacked his lymph nodes before spreading to the rest of his body. Doctors concluded his cancer was a direct result of him being exposed to the Agent Orange toxin during his stint in the U.S. Army. My dad’s name and an estimated two million other Vietnam Veterans developed life-altering illnesses leading to long-term health conditions significantly decreasing their quality of life and then die from service-related diseases. My dad’s name and his comrades who battle health illnesses due to Agent Orange on our American shores will never have their names engraved on the Vietnam Wall. When Congress agreed to allow the Wall to be constructed it was stipulated that only the names of the military personnel who died during the War would be added to the Wall. It’s a hard truth to accept that your loved one’s name will not be displayed on the Wall, even though they died due to a military service-related injury.
There is an organization which produces a special annual memorial service to honor the lives of the millions of military personnel who are slowly dying on American shores daily after their service in Southeast Asia. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund believes all Vietnam veterans should be remembered for their service. Each year the VWMF produces a patriotic, solemn, and heart-tugging In Memory memorial service on Father’s Day weekend. My dad was inducted into the In Memory Memorial Service Hall in 2015. My family did not know what to expect. Despite the heaviness in our hearts as we traveled to our nation’s capital, it turned out to be a great trip. When we checked into our ritzy hotel we were treated like the family of a five-star general or top-ranking American diplomat, when in reality, my dad was a lowly SP4 in the Army. The VWMF coordinates with a local hotel to block a group of rooms for attendees’ families at a discounted rate. With memorial service families staying in one hotel this allowed us the opportunity to share stories of our military heroes with each other. My mom, brother, and I did not know any of the other In Memory families before arriving in D.C. Yet, over a short weekend, we heard stories from other families as we each talked about our military heroes. So, on that day we became part of a larger family. A family of In Memory honorees.
On Saturday morning we were whisked away from the hotel to the Vietnam Wall Memorial abroad commercial tour buses for the In Memory program. It was a beautiful day. Hundreds of people came to the event to pay tribute to the 165 honorees during the memorial’s 17th annual event. It was so peaceful even as people’s voices choked up with pain and tears flowed freely as family members lovingly read their loved ones’ names, military branch, and dates of service. The family of every honoree veteran has two memorial plaques – one plaque for them to take home and one to lay at the Memorial.
Every night the plaques and other mementos are picked up from the Memorial grounds by the National Park Museum to preserve the items, which are planned to be used for future displays to ensure no veteran’s service is ever forgotten.
The part of the In Memory program which brings me the most peace is knowing the names of every veteran whose name is on the Wall and every past In Memory recipient are read every year during the memorial ceremony. Under the canopy of a large plush tree with a clear view of the Wall volunteers read the names of each Vietnam veteran who died as a result of their military service during the war or after they returned home. Every year my dad’s name is read. Carl D. Long, US Army, 1970-1971. It means he has not been forgotten. His service to his country he loved so much is finally being honored and remembered.
Having my dad’s name on the In Memory rolls is an absolute honor. Being able to pay tribute to my dad on Father’s Day that year along with thousands of his comrades made my heart overfill with joy. The In Memory program was a celebration of patriotism as red, white and blue were everywhere you turned. On Father’s Day red, yellow and white with red tips roses stretched for as far as you could see. On Sunday, Father’s Day, my family attended the Father’s Day Remembrance Ceremony. It was a deeply sentimental tribute to fathers. After a brief speech, attendees were encouraged to write a personal message when picking up a red, yellow or white with red tip long stem rose to place on the Wall. Red roses are for those killed in action. The yellow roses are for those missing in action. The white rose with a red tip is in honor of the In Memory veterans.
Father’s Day 2015 was extra special for me. My dad was not just being remembered for his military service, but also being honored for being a daddy. A wonderful daddy who had the patience of a saint to put up with my feisty, sometimes drama queen self, while always telling me to keep reaching for the stars. Nothing will ever bring my dad or any of the other service members back. Even on my darkest days when my heartaches for my dad I am comforted to know that his sacrifice and service are not forgotten.
That HE will not be forgotten.
That NO Vietnam Veteran will ever be forgotten.