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William E. Bowles, Jr., Sgt. Major, U.S. Army
William (Bill) Bowles was born in Olney, Illinois July 31, 1931. He was the second of 6 children born to Yourth and William Bowles. Billís family is noted for their longevity with his mother and father both living to their 90ís and fortunately to this day, all of his siblings are living. Bill joined the U.S. Army in 1948, along with some friends. One of the young men was sent to Korea before Bill and was killed within 1 month of his arrival. When Bill heard that his friend had been killed in action, he drove for 36 hours straight to Olney so that he could stand Honor Guard. Until the day he died, loyalty and patriotism were as much a part of him as his blue eyes.
Bill completed his tour of duty in Korea and went on to complete two tours in Vietnam. The first from May 1965 to May 1966 with the 7th Aviation Platoon, 14th Aviation Branch attached to I Corps. The second tour was from October 1966 to May 1968 with the 484th Transportation Detachment, 282nd Aviation Co, HHC 10th Combat Aviation Battalion. Forgive me if I have these designations written incorrectly, I did my best to understand the military abbreviations. Anyway, we thought that he came home safely, except for his skin condition.
Approximately 1975, Bill became ill with what the doctors at the Long Beach Navy Hospital diagnosed as asthma, along with a skin condition diagnosed as psoriasis. The military doctors treated him with various medications, none of which worked for either condition. Finally the disease reached a point where the military doctors determined that they did not have the expertise to properly care for him. They advised Bill to seek civilian medical care.
Bill went through literally years of intermittent hospital confinements; all the while his condition was worsening. In the end, this brave man had needles stuck everywhere and a tube in his throat to breathe for him. He could not eat, drink or talk, but wrote notes to the kids and me. Prior to his last hospital stay, Bill had completed the papers necessary to be included in the Class Action Suit against the manufacturers of Agent Orange. The Medical Board for that suit had no difficulty recognizing Billís condition as resulting from exposure to the dioxin in Agent Orange. Bill passed away March 3, 1989 at the age of 57, and to the end he managed to maintain the dignity and honor with which he served.
If I had had some guidance with the decisions I made at the time of Billís death, I would have most certainly requested an autopsy. But at the time, I remember saying to the doctor that Bill had had enough needles and tubes and I wanted him to be left alone. Shortly after however, I found that I was faced with the difficult task of trying to prove that his condition resulted from exposure and of course, the VA declined my claim. If I were ever in a situation to advise another wife of a Vietnam veteran, I would advise her to request an autopsy. If an autopsy had been performed, there would be no question that the cause of Bill's death had been related to ailments induced by exposure to Agent Orange.
I recently looked at the declination letter sent to me by the VA. Interestingly, the dates the VA reviewed in Billís case were from 1948 to 1969, when he retired. Not the actual commencement date of his illnesses.
Another experience that was truly painful was when the nurses at the hospital approached me to sign a document stating that I did not want extraordinary measures taken to save Billís life. Even though I knew Billís wishes, it was so difficult to sign. I paced the floor all night and I was so angry with Bill for not taking care of this beforehand. Whether or not your Vietnam veteran husband is ill, please, donít take the chance that you will be asked to sign this type of document. Make sure that your spouse has done this while he/she is still healthy.
Our son, born after Billís return from Vietnam, has experienced a number of health problems. Iíll list them just in case anyone out there has or has had similar difficulties. When I asked my sonís permission to write about his problems, he (like his father) did not hesitate, knowing that the information may help someone else. He was born with a prolapsed intestine, a skin condition basically the same as his fatherís, hearing problems, learning difficulties, although that particular problem seems to be corrected. Also, he has no sense of smell.
It is only in this past year that I searched out women, who like myself, are widows of Vietnam veterans. I think that going through the illness, hospitalization and death somehow isolate you and it takes time to find your way back. Two of our ladies husbands' died from lymphoma, a cancer that is recognized by the VA. Another of our lady's did not know of the connection between her husband's death and exposure for a number of years. Though the benefits you receive will never assuage the pain, they are yours by virtue of your mateís death as surely as if he had died in battle.
If this information helps anyone, then I am grateful to God.
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