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After war, more battles loom

Nov. 11, once known as Armistice Day marked the end of World War I on Nov. 11, 1918. In the United States it is now called Veterans Day and is a Federal Holiday set aside to honor American veterans for their sacrifices and service to the nation in war and peace.

While there are warrior types who revel in war for most veterans going to war is an occurrence like no other event in life. Take it from me, war is not glorious. It is dangerous, dirty and often deadly.

In most wars of the recent past the enemy often blends in with the civilian population, so that no matter where a soldier serves, he or she is exposed to enemy action in the form of ground, rocket or mortar and suicide bomb attacks whether serving with an infantry unit or as a clerk or technician in a “secure” base.

In earlier wars such as the Revolutionary War, the Mexican war and the Civil War far more combatants died from disease than combat wounds. In recent wars now added to deaths from disease and combat are those veterans who have been exposed to toxic chemicals that have shortened their lives or left them severely disabled.

A case in point is the defoliant Agent Orange that impacted many of those who served in Vietnam in areas where it was utilized to deprive the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army of cover. Among the diseases caused by agent orange are diabetes, Parkinson’s Disease and several forms of cancer including soft tissue sarcoma, non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, Hodgkin Lymphoma, Chronic lymphocytic leukemia, prostate cancer, and respiratory cancers.

According to the best information available out of the 7.4 million U.S. personnel who served in South Vietnam 2.8 million were exposed to agent orange. Several sources indicate that in the years since the war ended as many as 400,000 veteran deaths may have been caused by exposure to agent orange.

The U.S. government and the VA were slow to recognize the impact of Agent Orange on American troops and by 1991 had only compensated 468 veterans. However, the Agent Orange Act of 1991 gave the Department of Veterans Affairs the authority to declare certain conditions “presumptive” to exposure to Agent Orange, making those veterans who served in Vietnam eligible to receive treatment and compensation for those conditions.

Many Gulf War veterans suffered from the “Gulf War Syndrome” a chronic and multi-symptom disorder affecting returning veterans of the 1990-1991 Persian Gulf War. A wide range of symptoms have been linked to it, including fatigue.

Approximately 250,000 of the 697,000 U.S. veterans who served in the 1991 Gulf War were afflicted with this chronic multi-symptom illness. The exact causes of this illness have not been determined but may include exposure to chemical agents or pyridostigmine bromide, which was given as a preventive measure to soldiers likely to be exposed to chemical warfare agents. Other possible causes include post traumatic stress disorder, exposure to depleted uranium munitions, insecticides, and smoke from oil well fires.

In the aftermath of the Vietnam War, it became apparent the most common disease or syndrome affecting veterans is post-traumatic stress disorder. PTSD or as it was known as in earlier times as shell shock, or combat fatigue is not uncommon to one degree or another in most returning veterans. For many it may have been a case of readapting to civilian life but for others, without help it led to alcoholism, drug dependency, destroyed marriages and families and destroyed lives. I wonder how many veterans of earlier wars came home and found that they had difficulty coping with life coupled with the fact that no one understood what they were going through and, in the end, leading them to suffer alone.

My grandfather was a veteran of World War I. In October 1918 as the allies pushed the German Army out of France, he and several other American troops took refuge in a shell hole. While they were there a mortar or artillery round fell amongst them killing all but my grandfather who was severely wounded in a leg. In 1919 he came home and went on with his life and with my grandmother raised two sons.

At least in my presence he never talked about his war experiences but after serving in Vietnam I have often wondered how the horrifying death of his comrades and his own sever wounding affected him during his lifetime.

Service in the military, whether in war or peace means giving up the comforts of home, contact with family, and loved ones and even the loss our individuality. Any person who answers the call of our nation, whether by volunteering or being drafted into the armed services deserves the thanks and praise of all citizens.

Finally on this Veterans Day to all my fellow veterans, thank you for your service.

Thomas Kirkpatrick Sr. is a Silver Creek resident. Send comments to editorial@observertoday.com

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