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Deceased Lehigh Valley Vietnam vets honored in D.C. tribute for Agent Orange victims and others

Seven years ago, Zachary Roman stood with his grandfather at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, watching the flood of emotions fill Thomas Richards as he searched for the names of fallen comrades and offered a salute.On Saturday, the 21-year-old Roman returned to the memorial to honor Richards, reading the name of the U.S. Marine Corps lance corporal aloud during a ceremony recognizing 534 service members whose deaths were connected to their time in Vietnam.Richards served in Vietnam from 1967 to 1968. It was years later that fatal side effects surfaced from his exposure to Agent Orange, the powerful herbicide that U.S. troops used to rid areas of vegetation. He battled non-Hodgkins lymphoma for 16 years before his death in 2017.“Agent Orange may have taken his life, but it never took the memories,” his wife, Sharon Richards, told The Morning Call. “So we carry on.”Sharon Richards, center, honored her late husband, Thomas Richards, during a ceremony Saturday in Washington, D.C., recognizing service members whose deaths were connected the war in Vietnam. Attending with Richards, from left, was her granddaughter Kayla Roman, daughter Shannon Roman, grandson Zachary Roman, son Byron Richards, and son-in-law Scott Roman. (Laura Olson/)Richards was one of four area veterans honored at Saturday’s In Memory Program, at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington. The others were James Fegley of Tamaqua, Ronald Pfluger of Nazareth; and Clifford Treese of Allentown.Richards, Fegley and Treese all suffered from cancer as a result of exposure to Agent Orange. Troops were told the chemical was harmless but since then, Agent Orange has been linked to certain cancers and birth defects.“Only a fraction of the casualties actually died on the battlefields of Vietnam,” said Jim Knotts, president and CEO of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund. “Many more carried their wounds back and suffered long after the actual fighting ended.”The iconic Vietnam Veterans Memorial is inscribed with the names of more than 58,000 men and women who died during the war or who remain missing. While names are still added to the wall, Defense Department rules prevent those who died from Agent Orange-related illnesses or the results of post-traumatic stress disorder from having their names added.Instead, those individuals have been honored through the In Memory program, created by Friends of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in 1993. More than 3,600 veterans have been added to its honor roll.At Saturday’s ceremony, the latest 500 additions were read aloud during the three-hour event, which took place overlooking the memorial wall.Family members, friends and others slowly made their way to the microphone, some choking up as they made their tribute. Many carried photos and wore T-shirts with the names of veterans.They offered a glimpse of each person behind the uniform:“My husband of 51 years today.”“Brother, friend, father, and grandfather.”“Monday would have been his 71st birthday.”“A Purple Heart recipient.”“U.S. Army and a Red Sox fan.”“Every game of Clue we play is in your honor.”Roman kept his tribute simple, stating his grandfather’s name, rank, military branch and years of service. Afterward, he and other family members recalled Richards as someone who was always happy and generous with his time.“He always gave back,” Roman said.Richards never really stopped serving his country. After the war, he worked in security for Bethlehem Steel and later with Lehigh University Campus Police. He also was active at Central Moravian Church in Bethlehem and with the Masons.His battle with the effects of Agent Orange affected the whole family, Sharon Richards said, recalling how his final two months were spent at St. Luke’s Hospital. There’s not a day that goes by in which she doesn’t think of him.Being surrounded by others Saturday who understood how that feels meant a lot to her.“It’s a sharing moment,” she said.Stuart Fegley, center, honored his late father, James Fegley, during a ceremony Saturday in Washington, D.C., recognizing service members whose deaths were connected to the war in Vietnam. Fegley attended with his son, Christopher, and wife, Cindy. (Laura Olson/)For Stuart Fegley, Saturday’s ceremony was in part about finding closure.He and his father, James, were separated for much of his life. The elder Fegley served in the military for the first 18 years of his son’s life, and after James Fegley retired, Stuart Fegley enlisted and spent the last 18 years of his father’s life in the military. They rarely talked about his father’s service.James Fegley died on March 14, 1999. The last time Stuart Fegley heard his father’s real voice was over the phone while he was deployed to Saudia Arabia. After his cancer diagnosis in 1998, Fegley’s voicebox was removed and he needed assistance to speak. The family believes Fegley had post-traumatic stress disorder that went undiagnosed at the time.“War changes people,” Fegley said.He read his father’s name flanked by his wife Cindy and son Christopher. Afterward, Fegley said his father didn’t like the wall memorial because the sloped walkway was too much of a reminder of underground fighting conditions from Vietnam.A few yards away from the wall, Cindy Fegley placed a framed certificate for her father-in-law by the plaque honoring him and others whose names aren’t on the wall.It 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.”Washington correspondent Laura Olson can be reached at 202-780-9540 or
Source: Morningcall

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