By Peggy Lavender
In recognition of Veterans Day on November 11th I am writing this to honor my husband, Jim Lavender, who is a Vietnam Veteran. Jim is also one of 5.5 million Americans living today with Alzheimer’s disease. Jim is 67 years old and was diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimer’s in June 2014.
Jim was born in the Panama Canal Zone and lived there with his parents, his father who was a civilian engineer working on the canal, mother and three siblings. Jim would share stories of growing up in Panama and reminisce about playing in the jungles as a young boy. Jim and his family moved to Athens, Georgia when he was 16 years old. After graduating from high school, Jim’s mother told him that she could not afford to send him to college.
Jim decided that he would join the Army and if he made it through Vietnam, he would then go to college on the GI bill. In December 1969 at 18 years old, Jim joined the United States Army.
As anticipated, eight months later Jim was sent to Vietnam in August 1971. Jim later wrote in a journal that upon arrival, ‘we were neither scared or apprehensive at the moment and were incredulous that we were in Vietnam. To us, Vietnam was several planets away from the U.S. and mythical in its scope because it was a place that only existed on the 6 o’clock news and did not impact us.’
Jim was assigned to F Troop, 3rd platoon, attached to the 196th Infantry Brigade of the American Division in Chu Lai, a coastal military base, 75 miles south of DaNang in the northern part of South Vietnam. Jim spent most of his 11-month tour on foot patrol through rice paddies, hills, valleys, and jungles. Jim felt that growing up in a small town in the middle of the jungle near the Panama Canal, helped him feel comfortable moving through the jungle vegetation of Vietnam.
Jim made immediate friends with two of his fellow troopers, Tony and Pat, and unfortunately both of them died in Vietnam, Tony in March 1971 and Pat just six days after Jim was sent home. Throughout the years when talking about Vietnam Jim often remarked that he was lucky to be alive. Just as he had planned at age 18, Jim received his college degree on the GI bill from Georgia State University in March 1976.
Unfortunately because of Alzheimer’s disease, Jim has lost many important lifelong memories including those I have shared. Jim still loves to wear one of his many Vietnam Veteran baseball caps and I know that he is so proud that he served his country as a Vietnam Veteran!
Peggy is a volunteer advocate for the Alzheimer’s Association, Georgia Chapter.
To learn more about Alzheimer’s Association care and support programs near you, visit alz.org/georgia