I recently met a man wearing a Vietnam veteran’s hat. He was about my age and served his country in the war from 1968 through 1969. A smile lit his face when he learned that I, too, had served in Vietnam a year earlier than he did. It was as though we had known one another all of our lives. I think the camaraderie between Vietnam vets will always be there, just as it is for those who fought in other wars.
As we talked I told him about my experience with Agent Orange, and then he told me his. He had been exposed to the deadly chemical dozens of times, but considered himself lucky to be home in one piece. He made it back to the states without a scratch, just as I did; no bullet wounds and no shrapnel from mortars or grenades. But a year after his service to his country ended he was diagnosed with prostate cancer.
At that time, in the early 70s, the government did not associate or accept responsibility for Agent Orange exposure with any disease. My new friend, I’ll call him Sam, had to take care of his own medical needs and expenses. When he was diagnosed he had a good support unit from family and friends, but the emotional and financial strain were too much to save his marriage. Yet he persevered, and after ten years with cancer, chemotherapy, remission, a reoccurrence and another round of chemotherapy, he reached the end of the five-year survival date and was considered a cancer survivor.
The respect I had for Sam was immediate and unqualified. And the thing that excited me most about his story was that he had decided not to give up no matter how tough the battle. He has been cancer free for thirty years and still going strong. What I heard from him was Never, Ever, Quit! It’s the motto you’ll find in everything I write, and one I hope everyone will adopt.
To all of the veterans like Sam, thank you for what you did and are still doing for our country, and thank you for what you had to endure after your return. If you know a veteran, give him/her a kind word. Thank them for doing their part to keep us free.