“It was unbelievable.”
Charles ‘Chuck’ Jamison was full of excitement and joy less than a week after he had been flown to Washington D.C. as part of the Badger Chapter of Honor Flight, the organization that takes veterans to our nation’s capital to see the monuments built to honor him, and other soldiers who served their country.
But unlike the typical picture you may get of an honor flight - a plane packed full of veterans, being escorted by guides which makes a special flight to D.C., Chuck’s flight was different - Jamison, accompanied by his brother, George, took off as part of his own flight, flying into Washington and staying the night before seeing the sights.
Nicknamed a Lone Eagle flight, Jamison was flown to our nation’s capital and met up with other veterans from across the country as they got to see monuments built to honor them, and the others that served their country in uniform.
It was a dream trip that almost wasn’t going to happen, as Chuck’s health had deteriorated to a point a year ago his doctors were not sure he would make it to this point, after decades of suffering from the aftereffects of a chemical that the military used like water in the jungles of Vietnam.
Chuck’s service story starts in August 1966 when he was drafted into the Army, finding himself on his way to Vietnam in March 1967. Jamison had been assigned to the 506th Field Depot, handling and inventorying equipment and supplies for the war effort.
He should have been largely out of harm’s way - he saw a hill beyond him get attacked during guard duty, and had to help fend off a TET Offensive attack on Camp Davies in Saigon where he was later stationed. But there was one supply he had to handle that was just as destructive than being in the crosshairs of the enemy - Agent Orange.
A herbicide developed by the U.S. and British governments, Agent Orange (nicknamed due to the orange strips on the barrels it came in) was used through much of the conflict in Vietnam in an attempt to reduce the native vegetation the communist forces used as cover. Containing tetrachlorodibenzodioxin, what botanist Arthur Galston called “perhaps the most toxic molecule ever synthesized by man,” and now considered the cause of many major and ultimately fatal ailments Vietnam Era veterans suffer with.
At the depot, Jamison would deal with large drums of the stuff. “The humidity would cause the barrels to leak,” Jamison remarked, noting that his hands, arms and legs would be covered in the toxic material throughout the day, not realizing what it may be doing to his body, as no one knew at the time the hideous affects the chemical would cause.
Idea about the impact prolonged exposure would have on those who served in Vietnam started to form in the 1970s. While he did not feel the impact at first when he returned to Grant County, and began farming, Chuck started to feel ill in the 1980s, and those chemicals would spend three decades slowly destroying his health.
Chuck said that through the 80s he felt a lot of chest pain, and had a shortness of breath.
It was in 1996 that things really became bad, when Jamison suffered a massive heart attack, and would need four bypasses. His arteries calcified, slowly reducing to the point that he only has one functioning, and that is partially blocked. The upper part of his heart shows no signs of life, and the valves leak.
He carries nitroglycerin and morphine with him to combat the pain.
Things came to a head last year, when Chuck went in to get his artery unclogged. When in surgery for an unsuccessful procedure - his artery had become too calcified - Chuck suffered another heart attack. “I nearly died on the table,” he noted.
With that incident, and the fact that he was in the emergency room two-to-three times a month, his doctors recommended hospice. Searching for something more, they recommended Jamison also start taking Renaxa to help reduce his rapid heart rate. Because it is a restricted drug, the doctors needed approval first, but since taking it Jamison said he is felt better, and his visits to the emergency room have diminished.
Without it, he likely would not be around today. “There is no other medicine for me.”
Feeling better, Jamison only started receiving visits from Grant County Hospice three times a week this past few months.
Seeing it all
With George helping him around, Chuck went on a 14-hour tour of all the major sites of greater Washington D.C.
One of the locations that had the biggest impact for Chuck was seeing the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery. “I wish everyone could see that,” Jamison stated, talking about the dedication of the soldiers who serve there, making changes and laying wreaths every 10 minutes all day and all night, irregardless of the weather conditions.
Chuck also saw the World War II Memorial, where he and the other vets were greeted by WWII veteran and former U.S. Senator Bob Dole. “He shook my hand, I never dreamt that I would be talking to Bob Dole,” Jamison recalled.
At the Vietnam Memorial, Jamison made sure to look up and find the name of Jim Petri, a friend of his who did not make it back.
The group visited the Pentagon and the Korean War Memorial, amongst other historical sites.
As he was returning home, the memories did not end for Chuck.
As part of a tradition for Honor Flights, during the flight there is a ‘mail call’ where veterans receive letters from people in their community. Chuck received more than 100 letters, a number of them from schoollchildren thanking him for his service. “Some of them broke my heart,” Chuck noted on the letters. “I have read every one of them.”
When he arrived in Dubuque, he was greeted by a group of more than 40 people, including members of the VFW, American Legion, and Disabled American Veterans groups from Lancaster. The groundswell of support he received at the airport moved him deeply. “I broke down, I cried,” Chuck said, adding his thanks to the members of those groups for showing up, as well as his niece, Darla Adams, who made calls to make sure everyone was there onetime.
Jamison also acknowledged Grant County Service Officer Tim Murphy for his efforts over the years.
Chuck’s apartment has some of the banners that people waived during his homecoming.
George commented that the trip was very moving for him, but the biggest thing about it was being to see the joy it brought to his brother. “My best experience was watching how much my brother enjoyed the trip even though he was in a lot of pain,” George stated.
Chuck said that the trip, while taxing, was invigorating to him, and will help him carry on.
After all, Chuck knows it is not time for him yet. “I am not going to go until Jesus calls my name.”