Near the wall honoring Americans killed in Vietnam is a
plaque paying tribute to those who died later of causes
attributed to the war.
Published: November 08, 2007
Most of us know about the gigantic black granite Vietnam
Wall engraved with more than 58,000 names of servicemen
and women who died in Vietnam.
But on the same 13-acre site on the Mall in
Washington there is another memorial.
It's a 2-by-3-foot black
granite slab to commemorate the thousands of soldiers who
died stateside due to their service in Vietnam.
It is so small that it could go unnoticed, but it should not. The
veterans who died after returning home are also
This month marks the 25th anniversary of the Vietnam
Veterans Memorial. My husband, James Hatton, made the trip
to Washington with a group of veterans on this day in 1982
because he wanted to be there for the official dedication of
the memorial. He was a paratrooper with the 101st Airborne
Division of the U.S. Army Infantry.
Being there for this event, he said, was one of the first times
he felt his country had publicly appreciated Vietnam veterans.
He said he looked for the names of fallen colleagues who had
served with him.
He used his fingers to trace their names on the polished black
granite walls to pay tribute to their memories.
He died in 1991 of a cancer associated with Agent Orange, a
herbicide sprayed by the U.S. military to kill the tall, thick
jungle grasses used by the Vietcong to hide explosives and
other dangerous devices.
After the spraying, many lives were saved because our
soldiers did not inadvertently step on these devices. But what
we did not know was that the chemicals in Agent Orange were
so toxic that years later many soldiers would die in the States
due to exposure to this powerful herbicide.
According to the Vietnam Veterans of America, "An alarming
number of Vietnam Veterans have died young from illnesses
stemming from toxic herbicides (cancers; diabetes), war
wounds, PTSD (heart attacks; suicide), and Hepatitis C,
among others. The death toll continues climbing and is
expected to get worse."
To commemorate the thousands of veterans like my husband,
who died in the United States as a direct result of their
service in Vietnam, the small Vietnam War In Memory
Memorial Plaque was erected in 2004. It bears no names; it
merely reads: "In memory of the men and women who served
in the Vietnam War and later died as a result of their service.
We honor and remember their sacrifice."
Former Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado, a sponsor
of the bill for the In Memory plaque, noted, "Even though
these veterans may not have been killed in action while they
served in the tropical jungles of Vietnam, in the end they too
made the ultimate sacrifice for their country."
Because they did not die in actual combat, their names are
not eligible to be placed on the Vietnam Memorial wall.
"In the past 25 years, [the Wall] has become something of a
shrine,"said Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund Founder and
President Jan Scruggs, who conceived the idea of building a
memorial in 1979. "It has helped people separate the warrior
from the war, and it has helped a nation to heal."
During the celebration of the Wall's anniversary, the names of
American soldiers who died in Vietnam will be read
The reading will take place for 65 hours over a four-day
period. But the names of the veterans who are honored with
the In Memory plaque will never be read aloud.
Although various veterans groups have tried to keep records
of Vietnam veterans who have died stateside due to exposure
to Agent Orange, suicide and other causes related to their
service in Vietnam,
there is no official listing of all of these deaths. This small
plaque, although it does not have the impact of
Memorial Wall, is there to recognize these veterans.
There are two black granite monuments: the gigantic wall and
the small plaque.
The two memorials are different, but the sacrifices are the