SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX ) -- The total is 5,673 and counting, now that 14 more names have been added to the 'addendum' panel of the California Vietnam Memorial. One of them, Army Specialist James Brady, would not be there if not for the efforts of a fellow veteran.
"These are just some of the awards I've received during my some 40 years of service," says retired Army Colonel Joe Croom. Col. Croom's career reads like a history book, starting with an Air Force deployment to Vietnam in 1965. He would eventually serve in three branches of the military in nearly all four corners of the world, but Stockton was always home, partly because of a chance encounter after his tour in Vietnam.
"Jim and I met when I got back from Vietnam in '69," says Croom. "I needed a job and that's basically how we met, at Sears in Stockton."
They were complete strangers who immediately seemed to have everything in common.
"Yeah he was a good guy. He a good friend if you need something you were there if you needed something I was there we just, we just kinda clicked. We got an apartment together did all kinds of chasing around together. We did a lot of stuff."
Years later, Vietnam would return to haunt James Brady.
"When I came home, he was sick," says Croom. "The first thing I said was, 'It's got to be that Agent Orange.'"
Agent Orange was just one of the herbicides and defoliants used by American forces in Vietnam. It is now linked to severe health problems. Exposure to Agent Orange was something else Croom and Brady shared.
"He was on the ground, I was on the planes to that sprayed it," Croom recalls of Vietnam. "They told us, 'it's OK.' We would take off our shirts and wash down the planes at night, we got it all over us." The effects on Brady's body, years later, were debilitating. "He went from this kind of guy to, I don't know, just skin and bones," says Croom. "He suffered. He suffered at the end."
That suffering would lead to another fight, as Colonel Croom worked to prove that his friend's illness was the direct result of his Vietnam service. The Veterans Administration eventually agreed, officially attributing Brady's diabetes and ultimate death to Agent Orange.
"It took a while, took a couple of years, but he deserved It," says Croom. "He was not only friend, he was a veteran."
So Army Specialist James Brady's name is rightfully installed on California's Vietnam Memorial.
"It was a proud moment," recalls Croom. One name out of 5,673, thanks to the determined salute from a friend and fellow veteran.
"Just need more people to take care of our veterans," says Croom. "They did everything they could for the country it's time for the country to take care of them."
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