MANSFIELD -- When Lorice Sherman left her home in Arizona and moved to Mansfield, she didn’t know it would be the last time she’d see her father.
Now, almost a year after her father’s passing, Sherman is honoring him in a unique way -- by stringing orange lights around the pillars of her front porch.
While illuminating her home in a pumpkin-colored glow, she hopes to raise awareness of Agent Orange -- a chemical herbicide whose side effects continue to cause health problems for veterans of the Vietnam War.
Use of Agent Orange began in 1962 with Operation Ranch Hand, when the U.S. forces began spraying chemical herbicides and defoliants to kill jungle vegetation and crops in Vietnam. These chemicals were typically sprayed from helicopters or low-flying aircraft, but sometimes from backpacks, boats and trucks.
“My dad didn’t die in the Vietnam War, but the Vietnam War ended up killing him,” Sherman said. “It’s crazy that some chemical used to kill a weed back in the mid-60s is affecting people today. It blows my mind.”
Sherman’s father, Larry Bowers, graduated from Clear Fork High School in 1965. After graduation, he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps. He trained at Camp LeJeune and served a brief stint at Camp Pendleton. Bowers spent 13 months in Vietnam, where he fought on the ground during the Tet Offensive. Then he returned home to his wife, Nanci, whom he’d married just before his deployment.
Like thousands of Vietnam veterans, exposure to Agent Orange took a toll on Bowers’ health. For most of his life, the enemy lurked silently. There were no warning signs, with one exception -- a heart attack at age 43. But in the five years before his death, Bowers battled heart, lung and kidney issues. His doctors at the VA Hospital in Prescott, Arizona attributed his health issues to chemical exposure.
Bowers died from his health complications last year at the age of 72. Nevertheless, Sherman believes her father had no regrets about the cost of his service.
“He was never angry about it. He was just so proud of being a Marine and he was so proud to be a Vietnam vet. I don't think he’d say a negative word about his service or his country or any of that,” she said. “He was very upbeat about it like, ‘Hey, you know what? Some guys died there and I got to come home and l got to live another 50-some years.’”
Perhaps it was the resilience of a Marine, or maybe it was just his personality. Bowers was well-known for his sense of humor. Even when he shared stories of his time in the military, he focused on the shenanigans of his fellow soldiers rather than the harsh realities of war.
“He told a few, mostly funny stories, the goofy stuff that the guys did,” Sherman said. “He was very tight-lipped about it and I think all of it was very disturbing for all of them. He didn’t talk a lot about it and what he did was just kind of light-hearted things. Marines are very brave and I think they kind of stuff that away.”
Sherman got the idea to string orange lights after reading about the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund’s Bring Light campaign. The non-profit, based in Arlington, Virginia, will commemorate its first Agent Orange Awareness Day on Aug. 10 by lighting orange candles in front of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
She hopes that Agent Orange Awareness Day will bring honor to Vietnam veterans and heighten awareness of the help that is available.
The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs now offers disability compensation or benefits to veterans with health issues caused by contact with Agent Orange, which range from Parkinson’s disease, Hodgkin’s disease and non-hodgkin’s lymphoma to prostate cancer, diabetes, peripheral neuropathy, various respiratory cancers and other conditions. Agent Orange has also been linked to spina bifida in children of exposed veterans.
Agent Orange veterans are also eligible for the “In Memory” Honor Roll, an online archive honoring those Vietnam veterans who returned home but died later as a result of their service. The program honors veterans who die as a result of Agent Orange exposure, PTSD and suicide, cancer or other causes related to their service.
“I feel proud of service and I think it’s important for all of us to really respect and pay tribute and honor veterans, and whether or not they're sick from their service or not, you know, they just deserve a lot of credit for it,” she said.