U.S. Navy commander's wife describes battle with Agent Orange
In honor of Veterans Day, retired U.S. Navy commander Tim Gonick's fellow retirement-center residents near Happy Valley learned about his struggle to live a normal life after being exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam.
Gonick's wife, Velia, also a Navy veteran, told residents during the Nov. 11 presentation about how her robust, athletic husband slowly lost his way into his current condition of severe dementia. Velia recounted how Tim changed as he slowly withdrew from his hobby as a world-class photographer into a person who could no longer use a camera.
Forum at Town Center Activities Director Dain Haller said residents were clearly moved emotionally to hear Gonick's "gripping account." Haller said everyone at the Forum knows Gonick, but they had never heard the full account of how quickly his dementia had set in after he was discharged from military service.
Velia Gonick said her husband, a 20-year Navy veteran, served his country well as a supply officer onboard a tank landing ship in the Vietnamese Mekong River delta region for eight months. Unbeknownst to him, he was repeatedly exposed to a strong chemical agent while performing his duties in a combat zone. Velia was especially upset with the American authorities who sprayed their own military personnel along with the Vietnamese people.
Velia Gonick provided photos of the young officers onboard their ship in Vietnam as they went about their duties as they traversed the Mekong River delta region. None of them knew about the after-effects that were awaiting them from exposure to Agent Orange, she said.
Tim Gonick's ship had a crew of 12 young Navy officers who served during this period. Since then, Velia Gonick said eight of them have died because of their contact with the strong herbicide chemical.
Tim Gonick present during the Veterans Day ceremony, but he was unable to speak due to his condition. Velia said she now takes care of her husband as he faces a slow death in the assisted living facility.
A second portion of the Veterans Day observance was dedicated to hearing from other veterans living at the Forum. One by one they rose to tell of their duties, learning in the process that they had collectively represented every branch of the military; one served onboard a submarine in the Pacific, two were involved as intelligence personnel in Vietnam, and there was also as Navy corpsman who took care of the military personnel who returned from a war zone. The residents then stood and applauded their fellow American citizens celebrating Veterans Day.
"The residents at the Forum were astonished to learn how many true heroes there were living in their midst. The theme that day was on how much each of the veterans had given to serve their country," Haller said.
One week before the event, residents decided to form the Forum Singers to provide patriotic music for the event. The new Forum Singers Director Rhoda Barlow had only two practices to prepare her 26-member choir for the occasion.
"It is amazing how much you can accomplish when the project is so close to your heart," Barlow said.
As the director, Barlow appealed to the patriotic feelings of the singers as they practiced official songs of each of the four branches of the military. She admonished the singers to show their emotions, and maybe even "tear up" as they considered how much their country means to them.
The event ended with everyone singing "God Bless America" as the Forum residents recognized how much all of them were in debt to the American veterans.
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