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may/june 2008

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It had rained hard all the previous night. On April 21, friends and family of 75 dead Vietnam veterans gathered on the knoll above the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. These veterans had not perished in Vietnam, but many years later.

Still, their deaths were directly attributable to the war. Many had died of the cancers associated with Agent Orange. For others, the PTSD-induced rage within them finally destroyed them.

As the crowd gathered for the 10 a.m. In Memory ceremony to honor these most recent victims of the Vietnam War, the rain tapered, then stopped. The families gathered in a broad semicircle behind 75 small posters on which were printed the names, photographs, and dates of the veterans.

Speakers, including Jan Scruggs, eulogized the men. But far more eloquent were the family members themselves. They waited patiently and attentively as, one by one, they spoke of the men they had lost.

Many widows spoke angrily of being betrayed and abandoned by a government that had sent their husbands to war in their prime but ignored them in their decline. Others concentrated instead on the personal pain of loss. Kathleen Aylward, widow of long-time VVA Board member Randy Barnes, praised his commitment to work for veterans and promised to follow in his footsteps.

When everyone had spoken, a light drizzle resumed. The assembly made its way to The Wall, where the posters were placed—often with other mementos—near the names of those with whom these veterans had served.

The In Memory ceremony is held annually on the third Monday of April. To have a veteran included in the ceremony, call the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund at 202-393-0090 or go to the website, and click on “Programs.” You must submit an application, a death certificate, proof of Vietnam War service, a photo, and a brief bio.



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