STACYVILLE — Dean Thome of Stacyville said not a day goes by that he doesn’t think about Vietnam.
When he first arrived there in December 1966 as a member of the Army’s 1st Logistical Command, he worked on the docks unloading Agent Orange from ships near Saigon.
The Globe Gazette will publish 50 stories — starting on Veterans Day — about North Iowa’s Vietnam Veterans. The stories will appear on Sundays…
Thome, 68, has not been diagnosed with any of the diseases other Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange have reported, but he has skin breakouts that he believes are the result of unloading it.
Thome volunteered for the Army after graduating from Visitation High School in Stacyville in 1965 so he would have more of a choice of where he went.
He chose Germany and served as the driver for a captain before receiving orders to go to Vietnam.
In Vietnam, he worked for 18 hours a day, except when shifts were switched. He then received 18 hours off before going back on the job for six days straight.
He hurt his back one day after being hit by some lumber while unloading a ship. He got 21 stitches but was back on the job after just one day off.
However, he was soon sent to a classified area in the delta, serving as a “tunnel rat.” Being in a classified area meant he could not send or receive mail for a long time.
After two months in the delta, a warrant officer told him they looked up his records and learned he was an only son.
“He said, ‘I’m getting you out of here,’” Thome said.
At first Thome’s captain said no because of the shortage of troops, but he finally did get to go home.
When he was in line to board his plane the airport was attacked.
“I couldn’t get on that plane fast enough,” he said. “I never felt safe until the plane got up in the sky.”
Thome said he had post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. He was not diagnosed with PTSD until he was 50, which he said is common for Vietnam veterans.
The medication he is on has helped him a great deal. So did retiring from farming.
However, he still doesn’t like to be touched from the back or surprised in any other way. He also doesn’t like the sound of helicopters or the sight of people with guns.
He has nightmares to this day about the war.
The Stacyville area had a high number of Vietnam casualties, so Thome lost a lot of people he knew growing up.
He has four children, three from a previous marriage and one with Elaine, his current wife.
Thome said one thing he is thankful for is he knows where all his friends from his platoon are now.
“We all called each other brothers,” he said.