‘Casualties of War Salute’ at Vietnam Veterans LZ Peace Memorial
By Susan Johnson
The Vietnam Veterans’ Honor Society held a special “11 month, 11 day, 11 hour
salute to Vietnam veterans the morning of Veterans’ Day, Nov. 11, at the LZ Peace Memorial, Midway Village, 6799 Guilford Road, Rockford.
Purpose of the
Casualties of War Salute
was to remember and honor all who have served and are serving our country. A special ceremony was held for the addition and unveiling of the name of Vietnam veteran, Spec. 5 Lester
Vance, engraved in the Memorial Wall. Spec. Vance served in the Army with Delta 58th Infantry, Company D, as well as with the Military Police. He spent some time in the mountains around Qui Nhon guarding an ammunition dump. He also served with the 127th MP Company, 93rd Battalion near the end of his tour, from 1966-67. He came home in 1968.
His wife, Dixie, recalled:
He had problems after the war, but only during the last five or six years were we made aware of the post traumatic stress syndrome—that we even realized what it was. We went to the VA, and they told us what programs they had available for him as far as getting help. They had group sessions for other vets who were suffering from PTSD. He was going to group classes and really enjoyed it. He enjoyed the camaraderie with other Vietnam vets. I wish he had found out about this group years ago. It would have helped him a lot.
Vance died Sept. 17, 2009, from complications attributed to Agent Orange acquired while serving in Vietnam.
Nicholas Parnello, one of the founders of the LZ Peace Memorial, spoke with The Rock River Times about the event. He recalled that
Blackjack 6”was the name that appeared on the front of the helicopter he flew in.
This was quite a moving ceremony. … It was very touching that we were able to honor a veteran that died of complications from Agent Orange,
The family was there his wife Dixie and daughter Angela. His son, Mark, also a veteran, was there. That was a very special thing to have him there—just a very touching thing. It’s so nice that we as a Vietnam Veterans’ Honor Society could see the wall bringing such honor to our brother veterans. Thank God it was built because…we don’t have to have a lot of others—not necessarily just because of the war, but the suicide rate—over 60,000 that have killed themselves from the Vietnam War. So we have more that killed themselves than died in the war.
We have 250,000 affected somehow by Agent Orange. They have had problems in that. I am a victim myself. I had testicular cancer in 1984. They gave me one year to live. I did the surgery, but the rest of it holistically, and thank God, I was able to get through it. I can understand what Lester went through in fighting his battle. God bless him—he didn’t make it. We realize… a lot of Vietnam veterans died in Vietnam—we just know about it. The disease kills us, plus the PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), which we were very aware of because of Iraq and Afghanistan. … Even though the numbers aren’t the same, the ratio is higher. Between Iraq and Afghanistan, we’ve lost close to 5,000 in these two wars in the nine years we’ve been in Afghanistan and five years in Iraq.
In Vietnam, we were there 10 years and had almost 60,000 men lost—killed by the suicide rate because of the multiple tours. It is really impacting on our veterans, and I understand the complexity. I’m a very patriotic guy, but I don’t think I could have made it back. I couldn’t handle it. I pray for these guys. I don’t know how they do it. I was just married [at the time]. These guys have families. Imagine seeing your little kids and knowing you might not come home. I related a little bit to it when I had my cancer because the doctor told me if I didn’t do it his way, I might die. I can imagine leaving for another tour, how much stress that must put on them.
Parnello was pleased that the weather cooperated to make for pleasant surroundings for the ceremony.
It was so beautiful,
We had a lot of people speaking who weren’t veterans but talked about friends who were on the wall, [speaking] about veterans and the sacrifices they made.
Vance’s friend, Mike Todryk, an E-5 sergeant, served with the U.S. Air Force
Combat Engineers and the Army Engineers. Recalling his friend Lester, Todryk said,
He was another casualty they were simply recognizing 40 years after the fact, like so many veterans. He died from Agent Orange, which he was exposed to in Vietnam. Statistically, there are only about a third of Vietnam veterans still alive.
TRRT mentioned that Parnello had made reference to the high toll from suicides. Todryk agreed, adding:
That, and there is a laundry list of cancers attributed to Agent Orange exposure. At first, the government did not admit it. Lester had to fight for what he was entitled to because they are slower to recognize it even if you can prove that you were exposed to it.
Lester was a guy that if you met ‘Lek,’ you would never forget him. He was the kind of guy that would make friends with anyone regardless of your status, ethnicity, whatever. He could speak to anyone about anything. He had a great heart for people, and he was the consummate patriot, in my mind.
From the November 18-24, 2009 issue
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