They died of cancer caused by exposure to Agent Orange.
By WILLIAM K. ALCORN
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Three area Vietnam War veterans who died because of the war will be honored in Washington, D.C., for their service and sacrifice many years after the guns grew quiet.
Atty. Dean K. Phillips, James R. Hein and Jerry J. Vennette were 42, 41 and 39, respectively, when they died of cancer caused by exposure to Agent Orange, the defoliant used by the United States to clear the Vietnamese jungle.
Not even middle-aged, just hitting their stride in life, they died of war injuries as surely as if they had been killed on the field of battle.
But because they did not die of injuries suffered in combat, their names are not eligible for inclusion on the Vietnam War Memorial Wall, which carries the names of 58,229 Vietnam casualties.
On Monday, the three will get their due.
Phillips, Hein and Vennette are among some 400 Vietnam War veterans to be recognized posthumously during the fifth annual In Memory Day Ceremony at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and to have their names placed in the In Memory Honor Roll.
Sponsored by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, In Memory pays tribute to the men and women who died prematurely because of noncombat injuries and emotional suffering caused directly by the Vietnam War.
During the ceremony, family members read their loved ones' names in chronological order by date of death. After the ceremony, participants lay tributes at the base of the Wall, corresponding to the honorees' dates of service in Vietnam. That way, those Vietnam veterans come to rest with their comrades with whom they served. With the addition of this year's honorees, more than 1,000 individuals will be honored in the In Memory Honor Roll, foundation spokesman Alan Greilsamer said.
Dean K. Phillips
Helen R. Phillips of Poland will be there Monday with her grandson, Frank Phillips, to honor their son and father.
"It's bitter, but I need to go. I wouldn't miss it," Helen Phillips said.
The war changed Phillips, his mother said.
He was more intense about the things that mattered, like his family.
Phillips had a great sense of camaraderie with his fellow veterans. They cared for one another. Phillips gathered his friends around him -- constantly in his life, and just before he died, Helen Phillips said.
Writer Lewis B. Puller, son of former Marine Corps general Lewis "Chesty" Puller, who was at one of those last gatherings, wrote after Phillips died: "He is gone now, joined at last with his beloved brothers whose names appear on the Vietnam Memorial ... I know only that he touched my heart, and I am richer for having shared his life."
Phillips never said a lot about the war to his mother. But, a volunteer himself, he did talk about how unfair he felt the draft was.
"A lot of kids couldn't afford to go to college and didn't have a whole lot of say-so, his mother said he would say.
Regarding Monday's ceremony, his mother said, "I think he would be pleased to be recognized in this manner."
Jerry J. Vennette
Jerry Vennette was a congenial man who got along with everybody, loved his family and loved his work, his mother, Frances Vennette of Warren, said.
He also didn't talk much about the war with his family, but his sister, Joann Majersky of Bazetta Township, said that when he first came home, he seemed to have nightmares about it.
"I would hear him sometimes," she said.
"What I remember most about Jerry is what a nice guy he was," Joann added.
For example, when he was a kid, it took him forever to finish his paper route "because he had to stop and talk to everybody," Frances Vennette said.
"Every old woman on his route had him going to the store for them and shoveling their driveways," Majersky said.
He was a great brother and son and uncle, Majersky said. "My kids adored him."
"My oldest daughter, Leigh, who is getting married in September, was chubby when she was young, and kids would tease her. He would say, 'Aw, forget about it. Someday you'll pass them all up.'"
"If he could see her now. She was valedictorian of her class, went to Duquesne University on scholarship and is now a licensed pharmacist. And she's no longer chubby. He'd be so proud of her," Majersky said.
Vennette's death "hurts me really bad for my mother. It's an unnatural thing. He was a such a good son for my mother. He died too young," Majersky said.
"He went. He fought. He thought it was necessary. I think if he was a young one today, he'd be gung-ho to be over there [in Iraq]," Frances Vennette said.
"I'm pleased that he is being recognized. I think all those young men who were over there need to be recognized. I seem to recall they weren't treated all that well when they came back," Majersky said.
James R. Hein
Hein's son, Michael, who nominated him for the In Memory Honor Roll, said he believes the recognition would please his father.
There are so many more guys that should be recognized. "I'm proud of Michael doing this," said Deanna Thomas, Hein's wife (who remarried after his death) and Michael Hein's mother."I just felt like his service should have been recognized. I feel a lot of Vietnam vets don't get the recognition they deserve. I don't think enough young people recognize ... how many guys went over there and how it affected them when they came home," said Michael Hein, who is 25.
One of the things Michael Hein remembers doing with his father was a visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Thomas said her husband's cancer was very painful for him.
"Jim was such a strong, independent person who loved life. He was very sports-minded. He was in a fall softball league when he started complaining about a bad hip. He doctored from October until December 1988, when he was diagnosed with cancer in his lung and bones.
"He ended up in a wheelchair. He was such a proud person about his looks. Cancer is such a humiliating disease. It's sad getting cancer, but especially like this," Thomas said.
He died March 2, 1989."By the time he died, it had just shrunk him as a person, from 185 pounds to 135 pounds, and as a man. I had a closed casket service because I knew he would not have wanted people to see him like that," Thomas said.Hein enlisted in the Army. He was very patriotic," Thomas said.
"And he just loved life. He was a good father, and he would have been very proud of Mike and Mindy," Thomas said.
Michael Hein has the letters sent back and forth between his father and grandparents, and from them he knows that his father was "homesick a lot" while he was in Vietnam.
But at home, Michael Hein remembers his father as a good-hearted and outgoing person.
"I can't remember anybody not liking him. Even to this day, people tell me good things about him," Michael Hein said.