By Annie Nelson,
During the Vietnam War, over 11 million gallons of Agent Orange were sprayed on over 20 million acres in Vietnam. It is estimated that over 2,000,000 people have suffered illness from Agent Orange exposure. In the United States, over 300,000 veterans have died from Agent Orange exposure from 1962-1971, according to the Cleveland Clinic. While some Vietnam veterans have received the Purple Heart or the Medal of Honor, many others have received no recognition for the sacrifices they made and continue to make due to their service in Vietnam during the war.
A determined Vietnam veteran has made it his life’s mission to right this wrong! U.S. Navy veteran Ken Gamble is just that man. Gamble was only 17 when he enlisted in the Navy and served in Vietnam. He was one of the fortunate ones to return home. For years Gamble appeared healthy and enjoying life, married to his high school sweetheart. All was fine until it wasn’t. Several years after his service, Gamble became ill.
Like many other Vietnam veterans, Gamble was diagnosed with cancer caused by exposure to Agent Orange. He had an epiphany while being treated at a VA hospital several years ago. Listening to the horrors of pain and illness from his fellow hospital roommate gutted him. That lingering experience lit a fire in Gambles’ belly. He vowed to ensure that all his fellow Vietnam veteran brothers would be recognized for their wartime service. Gamble set out to create, enact and distribute an Orange Heart Medal.
Agent Orange exposure is considered a disability. If a proper diagnosis of respiratory cancer in a veteran with Agent Orange exposure is made, the VA will provide a 100% disability rating as long as the cancer is active during treatment. Gamble is on a quest to award our suffering heroes the Orange Heart Medal.
With the help of his home state of Tennessee and Congressional leadership, Gamble drafted a bill, and Governor Lee signed it into law with a unanimous bipartisan vote! Gamble established the 501(c)3 Orange Heart Medal Foundation. Once the foundation was established and the medal legitimized, Gamble was ready to craft the award and begin distribution. He started with a grant of $25,000, which was used to manufacture and distribute over 6,000 medals.
Agent Orange-diagnosed Vietnam veterans can still receive their Orange Heart Medal. All that is required is a documented medical condition that the VA attributed to service in Vietnam. Log on to orangeheartmedal.org and find the Medal Application on the top left of the home page. The medals are presented free of charge to qualifying veterans. Gamble is fierce in his fight to get this recognition in all 50 states. He is working to spread the mission state by state until the entire country recognizes all American servicemen and women for the injuries they suffered in service to our country while in Vietnam. At present, the foundation is working in eight states and going strong. To date, they have presented over 10,861 Orange Heart Medals. They have also gotten Highway 41 in Tennessee named the Orange Heart Memorial Blvd., and another section called the Gold Star Family Memorial Parkway.
The creation of the Orange Heart Medal, the legislation and distribution efforts were just the beginning. Gamble also spearheaded the plans for a memorial monument wall—Orange Heart Memorial. That vision has come to fruition. The memorial stands at the entrance of the Springfield Memorial Gardens, 4005 Memorial Blvd. Springfield, Tennessee. It is pretty impressive. Veterans Day 2020 was the first phase dedication, and as of today, they have installed a third phase with over 720 names on the memorial.
I drove out to take in the beauty and dedication. At the entrance of the memorial area, “In memory of all those who died because of this chemical and pray for those that are still suffering… Remember Our Sacrifice 1962 – Eternity,” is etched below a huge, beautiful stone Orange Heart Medal. There are monuments with maps of the area covered in the Vietnam War, a plaque with the House Joint Resolution 0108 by Kumar on one end and a Gold Star Memorial tribute to the Gold Star Families whose loved ones paid the ultimate price defending the United States of America.
The site hosts Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day events, among others. They are attended by many from far and wide. In March of 2021, the 6th panel of the memorial was dedicated. This panel is inscribed with 60 names of veterans. All Vietnam veterans who returned home are eligible to have their name on the cenotaph for a donation of $150.00. Service dates must fall between November 1, 1955 – May 15, 1975. The memorial’s cenotaph includes the person’s name, branch of service and state. An orange heart will preface the name of any Vietnam veteran battling with, or that has died because of exposure to Agent Orange.
In the last 14 years, it’s believed that Vietnam veterans are dying at a rate of 390 deaths each day. This statistic has prompted Gamble to make it his life’s mission to reach as many states, veterans and people as possible. He spends his waking hours pushing forward on this mission.
One man’s quest is contagious and is making a profound impact on a community that has been mistreated for too long.
For more information, visit orangeheartmedal.org, a site dedicated to all Vietnam veterans living or deceased that made it home.