Eureka Springs Independent Newspaper Column for April 2, 2014

On the Berryville Public Square is a memorial to those of Carroll County who died in the wars of the 20th century. The names of the dead are organized by war and engraved on the monument. Fifty-two of the fifty-nine names listed died in World War II, while three died in World War I, one in Korea and three in Vietnam.

While in the US Navy, my father served three consecutive tours to Vietnam on the destroyer the USS McKean. It spent time in the coastal waters off Vietnam, but also on the river deltas and up the rivers.

Donnie Weems died December 24, 2011 at the age of 70 of health complications linked to Agent Orange exposure. Agent Orange was a defoliant manufactured by Monsanto and Dow Chemical and sprayed by aircraft in Vietnam to eliminate cover that could be used by enemy forces.

My father was initially skeptical of his Agent Orange exposure, but it was his nature to be initially skeptical of everything. The Veterans Administration said that his contact with Agent Orange would have been during his time on land in Vietnam or on the rivers and river deltas. But the USS McKean would also float off the coast of North Vietnam to coordinate communications for downed pilots and the wind would blow the sprayed poisons out to sea, contaminating everything. My father described standing on the deck of the ship and the wind washing over him.

The government admitted his extensive heart damage and blindness were directly related to the Vietnam War. The Veterans Administration rated him as 540 percent disabled, as if that were possible. I do not recall him ever saying that he felt like he was in grave danger during Vietnam (not that he would have), but I’ve read online that his ship took fire (which he never mentioned.) However, the war apparently had a hand in killing him, though it was more than 40 years later.

The obvious point I am making is that war has costs that go on long after the conflict ends. There is a message on the memorial at the Berryville Public Square, the first line of which is, “That we not forget.”

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