Some Memories Never Fade, Vets Say
PUBLICATION: Goldendale Sentinel, WA print edition
Each one of the tattooed barbs on Rick Waddell’s arm represents a fallen soldier—the Marine is willing to concede that much.
Furthermore, he will tell you that each Memorial Day he does something special to honor them. Beyond that, the matter is private. Some things, he says, you don’t even tell your wife.
“I lost 11 Marines total and not one of those will ever be forgotten,” he allows before closing the subject.
Waddell will, however, tell his own stories from service days in Saudi Arabia and Somalia, and how he lost an eye to a rocket propelled grenade.
Flipping through his photo albums, various images stand out: a pile of radar scattering nets shaped into a “Christmas tree”; a blood-spattered car passenger seat; a teddy bear on a rifle in the sand.
There is a story behind each one and, with Memorial Day approaching, wartime thoughts are unavoidable.
The Marine is not alone. Veterans and active troops alike throughout Klickitat County say they are taking the holiday to reflect.
Goldendale native Keith Fahlenkamp is currently stationed at a Navy post in Connecticut. He will be transferred shortly to California where the U.S. government will effectively pay him to earn his Master’s Degree.
For Fahlenkamp and his wife, who was also in the service, the Navy has provided an immense career opportunity he says he might not have otherwise gotten.
“There are not a lot of people who make a lot of money in Goldendale,” he says. “I feel very well compensated in the Navy…I was lucky enough to not get injured.
“From my perspective, I couldn’t ask for more.”
The economic opportunities are tremendous, he says, noting all payment during deployment is tax-free and his benefits packages have been excellent.
Joshua Farris, who grew up in Lyle and served during Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), has had a different experience within the military. He says he was “troubled for a long time,” by his part in the operation and has in many ways turned against the institution.
Upon return, he saw soldiers with mental issues and, in Seattle, where he currently lives, has witnessed homelessness, drug use and crime among OIF veterans.
Farris says he feels that, much like during Vietnam, recent years have born a new generation of damaged veterans.
“There are so few soldiers and they keep cycling them in and out,” Farris says. “The more times they get sent over…the more it increases their chance of developing things like post-traumatic stress disorder.”
In Klickitat County, there are about 200 veterans, according to Pete Petersen, Goldendale’s American Legion Commander. The state of Washington has about 618,000 veterans total.
In 2006, the Washington Sate Department of Veteran’s Affairs (DVA) reported spending about $1.7 billion on VA benefits and treating 5.3 million in state facilities. The same year, about 600,000 veterans used GI Bill education benefits.
Washington has 153 VA hospitals, 895 outpatient clinics, and 135 nursing homes. For Goldendale veterans, the closest facility is in Yakima, although Petersen says in rural communities veterans can often be covered by a local physician.
The Legion commander says the health care system is excellent, but can sometimes be hard to get into. He has recently been diagnosed with lymphoma, which he believes is linked to his service in Vietnam.
“They used [herbicides] to kill away the bushes and debris to kind of open the area up and give less hiding spots,” he says. “In the process of doing that, the herbicide used — which is known as Agent Orange — was very toxic.
“Trying to prove you were exposed to Agent Orange,” he adds, “is very difficult.”
Fellow American Legion member Tom Beck, who has a service-related disability, agrees there is a lot of red tape, but says the coverage is worth it. He is a diabetic, for example, and gets 30-day supplies of insulin for a $7 co-pay.
“It’s a lot of ‘hurry up and wait,’” Beck says. “But once you get a provider, it’s great.”
With a wide variety of experiences among troops and veterans, however, they all seem to share one thing: an overwhelming sense of camaraderie.
Each one has been through something no one else has.
Waddell says he knows the address, phone number, date of birth, social security number, and blood type of just about every comrade he’s served with. When tested, he rattles off the pertinent information for fellow Marine Gabriel Mairon without missing a beat.
“What a lot of people don’t realize is when they’re out there, they’re not fighting for the Red, White, and Blue — they’re fighting for the guy next to them,” says Waddell. “That’s something that can only be understood by the people who have been there.”
He points to a picture of a bus in Somalia.
“Most people can’t even imagine a place like this,” he says. “People who are just normal guys are doing things so horrendous.
“The reality is a Marine by any other name is a kid off the street of Goldendale or anywhere else.
“You take him and you train little Johnny to do unspeakable things, and that’s the only reward you have for it: that you know the smell and the taste of it and no one else will.”
Local Memorial Day ceremonies will be held Monday, May 26 by the American Legion at the IOOF Mt. View Cemetery at 11 a.m., the Centerville cemetery at noon, and Stonehenge at 1 p.m.
This article was originally published in the Goldendale Sentinel newspaper. Goldendale, Washington. Photo with permission from Pixabay.