Vietnam Veterans: Fighting For Care, part 1

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Updated: 7/21/2014 11:30 pm
RENO, Nev. ( & KRNV) -- It is still considered one of the most controversial wars the United States has entered into, and it came a high cost. Over 58,000 troops lost their lives during combat in Vietnam and more than 300,000 others were wounded.

Ask just about anyone who served in combat, they will tell you the Vietnam War was never lost on the battlefield, but by politicians here and abroad.

Two Reno residents gave News 4 a look back at what that war was like in their eyes; the battle they faced in Vietnam, as well as back here at home.

Ken Anderson has roughly 30 seconds to get to his car. "The neighbors have found me out here several times, blacked out."

If it takes much longer, he runs the risk of passing out from lack of oxygen. "This is my life," said Anderson. "A 7-foot tether."

But life has not always been like this for him. In fact, there was a time when this Marine was a force to be reckoned with.

"I went to Vietnam in 1967," recalls Anderson. "I was in IdaCorp, attached to an air support unit. We directed airstrikes for the ground forces."

Anderson deployed to Vietnam as U.S. ground forces saw the height of combat operations, supporting the South Vietnamese against the North in what was already a decade-long civil war. But, unlike past wars, idenitfying the enemy inside small villages within the dense jungle of the Asian country was a difficult mission.

"Confusion, terror, what the heck am I doing here," remembers Anderson. "Why am I here? Watching out for your buddy mostly, and him watching out for you."

Despite being thrown into the middle of a political war that divided much of the country, over 6 million young men like 23-year-old Rick McBurnette saw the headlines and enlisted to fight.

"I just somehow felt it was my duty to serve in the military," said McBurnette.

By August of 1969, McBurnett was defending Goi Noi Island against the Vietcong as an officer with the 1st Marines. Three days after his arrival, he got his first taste of what the next year of his life would be like.

"And you think, 'Boy I don't know about this combat stuff. Am I going to be able to do something?' Then you see your first guy get killed and it's all different, and it's all about taking care of your men and nothing else."

To help reduce the thick jungle along platoon routes, and avoid enemy ambush attacks from the North, the U.S. began coating the Vietnamese countryside with 20,000,000 gallons of chemical herbicide between 1962-1971, code name Agent Orange.

"Brown, desolate, looked like a big weed garden in the middle of a Nevada drought," described Anderson. "Only it was trees, tall trees etc. etc., down to the smallest bushes."

When asked about the smell, Anderson said, "Oh yeah, kind of an oily, I don't know how to describe it, but an oily stink to it."

Anderson said the men were never told what the chemicals were, though they could see the aftermath. "It would spread pretty far. I don't know how it was disseminated from the aircraft, but you might be in it for a mile or two, continuous."

As fighting waged on, another battle began regarding the press U.S. Marines were receiving. "The fact that we were treated badly hurt," said McBurnett. "It hurt really bad, because you know, because you didn't do and you knew what happened. What happened is the Vietcong would go into the villages, and kill everybody. And I walked into the village one time, and everything was dead. Every man, child, and pig."

"They were bad people."

But that is not the version that ultimately made its way back home. "Combat is dirty, nasty, hard," said McBurnett. "There is no dignity. There's nothing."

During their time serving overseas, both Anderson and McBurnett were awarded Purple Hearts for wounds recieved during combat.

When McBurnett returned home, he was reminded how fresh his wounds were. "She looked at me and said, 'Babykiller' and spit at me. I'm in a Marine uniform and I've got a bronze Star and a First Lieutenant's combat decorations. You're an officer, see, so you suck it up and walk on."

"But it hurts. It hurts."

McBurnett did all he could to avoid a confrontation. "I got off the plane, got processed, flew to South Lake. Drove home to the cow country in Elko county and never really had contact with very many people."

Now, some 45 years later, as the men look back at their service as U.S. Marines during one of the most controversial wars in history.

Both say they would do it all over.

"I have no answer to that," said Anderson. "Other than looking at my flag."

"When your 60 years old or 50 years old, what are you going to see," wondered McBurnett. "I like what I see, I like what I see. I have no excuses. My fiancé's boy just got back from Afghanistan, and he and I had a big talk the other night."

"They (can) never take it away from you, and nobody will ever be able to say to you that you are less."

Anderson has serious health issues connected to exposure to Agent Orange. On Tuesday, the two-part series continues as veterans like Ken try to receive help from the local Reno VA, but are finding long wait times, denials and abrupt changes to disability claims.
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Sprite - 7/22/2014 8:06 AM
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There is help, and there are people fighting for a complete overhaul of the VA System. and we are also on FaceBook. We are available to help with issues any Veteran is having in getting appointments and also assist the younger veterans coming home if they need help in getting their paperwork taken care of. There are Coordinators in many states now, but not all. is the primary email that will assist anyone who needs help.

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