Plaque unveiled honoring Vietnam vets not named on memorial

Thursday, July 8th 2004, 7:50 pm
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A granite plaque was unveiled Thursday near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial to honor uncounted veterans who died after their war service from the lasting effects of Agent Orange, post-traumatic stress disorder or other unseen wounds.

``It will remind people that the price of war goes way beyond the battlefield,'' Ruth Coder Fitzgerald, founder of the grass roots movement behind the plaque, said during the ceremony at the memorial.

Her brother, John Coder, died in 1992 from non-Hodgkins lymphoma related to his exposure to Agent Orange as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam two decades earlier.

Coder and other Vietnam soldiers whose lives were cut short by illnesses believed related to their service aren't included on the memorial wall, which is engraved with the names of more than 58,000 service members who died of wounds sustained in combat or in direct support of combat. The military branches determine which of their members qualify. A few names continue to be added each year, and the criteria still cause controversy.

Americans will never know how many soldiers' lives were shortened by the Vietnam War, Fitzgerald said.

``No statistics have been kept on how many people died as a result of Agent Orange or post-traumatic stress disorder suicides,'' she said.

Between 1962 and 1971, U.S. planes sprayed an estimated 21 million gallons of defoliant, mostly Agent Orange, over Vietnamese forests where they believed communist troops might be hiding.

Many American veterans and Vietnamese have long blamed Agent Orange, which contains the deadly component dioxin, for a variety of illnesses.

Scientists are still trying to understand the effects of Agent Orange. For the purpose of benefits, the Department of Veterans Affairs presumes that a list of diseases linked to the defoliant _ including several types of cancer, diabetes, and spina bifida in veterans' children _ are related to Agent Orange exposure.

About 10,000 Vietnam War veterans receive disability benefits related to Agent Orange exposure.

Fitzgerald's group, the Vietnam War in Memory Memorial, raised money and lobbied for the plaque, which Congress approved in April 2000. Later, more financing and design work were provided by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, which wanted to ensure the monument would fit in with the three-acre site.

The American Battle Monuments Commission installed the granite plaque, 2 feet tall and 3 feet wide. It sits flush with the plaza at the statue of three servicemen, who gaze toward the memorial wall.

The plaque 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.''

``There's never full closure, but this helps,'' said Capt. Mike Fluck of the Pennsylvania National Guard. His father, James C. Fluck, suffered post-traumatic stress disorder after serving in Vietnam and took his own life in 1976, when his son was 7.

``He was a very gentle man, just very troubled,'' said Fluck.

A formal dedication ceremony for the plaque is planned Nov. 10.