The Official Voice of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress
October/November 2004
FEATURE
 
 

Order of the Silver Rose: To Honor and Educate
 

BY JIM BELSHAW

Seven years ago, Mary Elizabeth Marchand flew to Utah to be at the bedside of her dying father, Navy Chief Frank Davis. His cancer had been connected to Agent Orange exposure in Vietnam. She tried unsuccessfully to have a Purple Heart awarded to him. So she brought with her a plastic rose coated with silver Mylar. Her father christened it "The Order of the Silver Rose" and said, "Id rather have this than all the Purple Hearts in the Pentagon."

Marchand made other Silver Roses, one of which went to Gary Chenett, who now lives in Michigan. Shortly after Mary Elizabeth died in 1999, Chenett took over as national director of The Order of the Silver Rose. Five years later, the project continues to grow.

"Weve given 1,600 Silver Rose awards," Chenett said. "Things have been going great for the Silver Rose. Were making great inroads into the veteran community, especially in rural areas. There are so many veterans who need to be educated about the benefits theyve earned."

Nominees for the Silver Rose must meet the requirements needed for a Purple Heart but have not received the medal. Details may be found on the Silver Rose website, www.silverrose.org

Blues singer Sarge Lintecum, a Vietnam veteran, has written a Silver Rose song and donated 800 CDs to the organization.

"Every Silver Rose award that goes out will have the CD included in it," Chenett said. "The Silver Rose package has really been livened up with the addition of the CD. Were selling the CD, too. It only costs six dollars and one dollar goes into an escrow account so we can purchase more of the CDs when we run out."

Chenett said the organization is looking forward to a celebration of Vietnam veterans planned for the famed country music destination, Branson, Missouri, in June 2005.

"Its called Operation Homecoming and will run from June 13 to June 19," Chenett said. "Theyre going to have a giant celebration welcoming home Vietnam veterans. We intend to be there with [Jennie Le Fevres] Quilt of Tears."

One of the Silver Roses primary missions continues to be educating veterans on how best to prevent or deal with the various diseases connected with Agent Orange exposure. Chenett said that even with so many years having passed since the end of the war, countless veterans still are unaware of what precautions need to be taken and how to obtain VA benefits.

"You would not believe how many veterans dont know about the benefits they have coming to them," said Chenett, who was diagnosed with Agent Orange-related cancer in 1993. "So many are in denial about these things, but were breaking down barriers and making inroads because so many guys have been carrying these burdens on their shoulders for so many years. Were getting guys in to get help, receive physicals and full-body CAT scans, and receive compensation. The Silver Rose is doing great."


TOBY COLLINS: PROUD

"The grateful citizens of the United States of America proudly award the Order of the Silver Rose to Sergeant Donald Lee Collins, Sr., U.S. Air Force, for military merit in the defense of his country while serving in the Republic of Vietnam."

And so, during ceremonies at the Armed Forces Retirees Club last August, Toby Collins received the Silver Rose.

"Im pretty proud of it, Ill tell you that," he said. "It means were finally getting recognized for what we had to go through in Nam."

Collins recalled watching airplanes and helicopters spray clouds of Agent Orange over the thick jungle foliage. They would spray half a dozen times. Afterwards, nothing grew there. He was relieved that the snipers had lost their cover. Besides, he didnt worry: He was assured by his superiors that what killed the plants was harmless to him.

"It got in the air and traveled and got into the water you drank. You were getting it from all different places," he said.

Collins is no longer so naive, nor is he so able-bodied. Two years ago, he had to quit work altogether. Complications from Agent Orange-related Type 2 diabetes left him chronically exhausted. In addition, he had nose bleeds, tremors, dizzy spells, and had lost feeling in parts of his feet, Collins said.

He feels he deserves a Purple Heart: "Its owed to us." But hes mighty proud to be honored by his fellow veterans with the Silver Rose. So inspired is Collins by Gary Chenett and the Order of the Silver Rose that hes applying to be a local director.

Agent Orange has left him with a lot of free time. At 55, Collins never thought hed be retired. Hes angry now, not just for himself, but for his fellow veterans. "Veterans are sadly misinformed on what their rights are," he said.

Toby Collins wants to help veterans disabled by Agent Orange and the other pesticides used on the battlefield in Vietnam. And he wants to honor them, too, with Silver Roses.

   

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