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In Memory of Jennie R. Le Fevre

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Jennie and Bob 

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Jennie -  I learned today you'd left us.

You left a big space down here, Jennie,

Big shoes to fill...impossible job, I think.

You are home!  You are with our friends,

Our family.  Those who didn't make it.

Those whose lives were taken by Agent Orange.

Those who were some of your 'Dear Ones'.

We never met in real time, Jennie,

But I knew you well.  I knew your heart.

There was never a vet you turned down

Who needed your help.  I'd write,

"Jennie, you have time for one more?"

You'd answer, "Send them on"

I always knew what your answer would be.

We won't forget you, Jennie,

What you stood for, what you have done,

Your quilts, your work, your tireless efforts.

The spirit with which you fought those in power,

The humor that was present whenever you wrote.

Thank you, Jennie, for being a part of our life.

We will watch for your star, too.

 With love and deep respect,

 Betty Davis

9/9/04

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I have been asked by some people to tell my story and I do so with tears in my eyes. It is quite long, how Agent Orange has affected and destroyed my life. Please allow me to share this with you.

Hugs and Smiles, Jennie

Agent Orange:  My Story
M/Sgt. Gerald H. Le Fevre and Jennie R. Le Fevre

   I am the widow of M/Sgt.Gerald H. Le Fevre USAF retired. My husband served in Vietnam at Nha Trang AFB with the 15th Special Operations Squadron, an Air Commando Unit, from 1968 to 1969. He was an airborne radio operator on C-130 aircraft that also flew supply runs throughout all four corps of Vietnam.

These aircraft transported Agent Orange at least twice a month which my husband helped load and unload with his bare hands. He wrote to me from Nam stating that skin was peeling off his hands in layers and he did not know why. He stated the doctor said it was jungle rot and my husband joked asked me if I was still interested in him, that he was a rotting old man of thirty-five.

    My husbands radio position was in the cargo section of the aircraft. The planes flew in and out of bases that had been sprayed including his own base. These aircraft flew at low level through mists of Agent Orange, flying with the cargo doors wide open and the mist drifted into the aircraft on many occasions.

   In May of 1989, fifteen years after his retirement from the Air Force, Jerry was diagnosed with inoperable cancer of the lungs, liver, stomach, pancreas, lymph nodes, peritoneum, bone, diaphragm, and omentum. The diagnosis of his cancer was adenocarcinoma of an unknown primary, the doctor was never able to identify the original site of the cancer.

   At time of death, Jerry was also diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, degenerative joint disease, obstructive jaundice, anemia, cardiopulmonary arrest, congestive heart failure, emphysema, fibrous lungs, and extragondal germ cell tumor syndrome. His chest x-rays revealed abnormal status of the lungs showing ventilation perfusion defects involving greater than 50 percent of his lungs.

   He also had the onset of peripheral neuropathy which was never diagnosed and he also had body rash. At time of death, he also had kidney failure, pneumonia in both lungs, respiratory failure and pulmonary emboli.

   His death certificate states, manner of death, as NATURAL.  How can that be? They could have at least stated Pending or Other, all of the things wrong with him was not natural by any stretch of the imagination. He was in the military hospital at Andrews AFB, MD for seven months. He died on December 10th 1989 at the age of 56.   

   My fight with the government was to begin before my husband was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Two days after his death, the children and I went to the funeral home to choose a casket. The funeral director asked us to come into his office so we could hear the arrangements with Arlington National Cemetery regarding funeral services in the chapel and burial at Arlington. The funeral director turned on the speakers so we could hear the two way conversations, everything was arranged. So I thought.

   Jerry was to be buried three days later. Two days before his burial, I received a telephone call from Arlington. They asked if the children and I had any remarks that we would like the chaplain to say about my husband. They requested that we keep our remarks brief as they did not want the grave site services to be too long because of the cold weather.

   I couldnt believe my ears, what was he saying, grave site services. He stated there would be no services in the chapel. I proceeded to tell the officer my husband was entitled to chapel services and that I had heard it being discussed with my own ears and I would settle for nothing less. After much haggling and screaming on my part, two hours later they called back and said there would be chapel services after all.
  

 It gave me great pleasure to royally chew out the LtCol who was giving me such a hard time. I am a USAF veteran of the Korean war, even though it was a sad time that day, it was a great morale booster to be able to tell that officer off and tell him I knew what my husbands and my rights were.

   My husband was a highly decorated serviceman with the Distinguished Flying Cross and Five Air Medals among many others, and to tell me he was not entitled to chapel services, no way. I literally flew into a rage. 

   After Jerrys death, I put in a claim through the DAV stating that I believed his death was caused from his exposure to Agent Orange. For a year and a half I heard nothing from the VA, there was a moratorium on Agent Orange claims at that time but they never notified me as such. Then I received a letter from the VA stating that I was denied any accrued benefits under my husbands disability claim which he had submitted while he was in the hospital. I found out later that the VA had not even reviewed my husbands medical records before denying me anything.

I checked with the hospital at Andrews AFB and found out the VA had requested the medical records one week after they had sent me the letter of denial. It appears that the VAs left hand does not know what the right hand is doing.

   I later received a letter that my claim for service connected death had also been denied. I requested a hearing, I wanted to have my say. I waited another year and a half before I got a hearing date. The DAV, on many occasions, had refused to return my calls of inquiry. My claim was denied again after the hearing.   

   The reason for denial was my husbands doctor had classified my husbands cancer of an unknown primary. Plus the pathologist who did the autopsy stated he Presumed that my husbands cancer was of gastric origin. Thus in the VAs eyes, even though Jerry had cancer of the lungs, which is on the VAs list, they stated I had to prove it began in the lungs. The VA concluded Jerrys death was not due to his exposure to Agent Orange. I was at a stand still.
  

   Later my claim was put on the docket for the Board of Veterans Appeals. Soon after that I made a great discovery, In going through some of Jerrys active duty medical records. I discovered that during an annual flight  physical seven months prior to his retirement, a doctor states Jerry has fibronodular changes in both of his lungs. This is the same flight surgeon who gave Jerry his retirement physical later and who also states that both lungs are abnormal.

   Did the doctor tell Jerry this, I dont know, did Jerry ever tell me about it, no, was there ever a follow-up, no but the doctor did classify Jerry as healthy to retire from the AF. Very strange in my opinion. 

In my opinion, he should have been medically retired but that was not the case I was sure I had my evidence that the cancer began in the lungs. I did a lot of medical research on my own and found the active duty lung condition my husband had, results in lung cancer. The whole time the VA and the DAV had the information about the active duty lung condition and never revealed it to me, they remained silent on the issue from the very beginning of the claim.

   I requested that my claim be withdrawn from the Board of Veterans Appeals and requested another hearing to present this new evidence. I knew that the claim would be sitting at the Board of Veterans Appeals for at least five years or more and I was tired of waiting. The evidence would no longer be under Agent Orange, but under a service-connected lung condition that resulted in his death. It took another year and a half to get a hearing date. and at the same time the DAV, once again, was not returning my calls of inquiry.

   When I went to talk to the DAV about my discovery and asked why they had not told me about this information, they became very angry and hostile. They suggested that if I was so unhappy with their representation, I could change power of attorney to another service organization if I wished. I still retained them in spite of what they said. I was frustrated and upset with the DAV, they were supposed to be helping me.

   At my hearing, the first words out of the DAV service reps mouth to the hearing officer was:  Please consider this claim under Agent Orange. I became enraged. I stated this claim had been denied several times under Agent Orange and that this hearing was to present evidence for a service connected lung condition which resulted in my husbands death. It was not to be under Agent Orange.

At the end of the hearing, the hearing officer stated she would consider it under Agent Orange, I became enraged again and stated that a service connected lung condition was the issue at hand, not Agent Orange. In my opinion, It didn't matter which one caused it, he still died as a result of it or maybe both.

   One year and three days later, {yes they took that long] the claim was denied again because the VA had sent all the medical records to one of their own VA doctors, who relied only on the autopsy report. That had stated cancer Presumably of gastric origin.  I felt that the new evidence I had presented had not even been considered at all.   

   I had been advised by the National Veterans Legal Service Project that if my claim was denied this time, they would take it over. In September of 1998, I gave them my power of attorney and they requested a copy of my file from the VA. They are still waiting for that copy and here it is into March of 1999.

Update Year 2000;

   They now have received the file and have told me that I need a letter from a doctor stating my husband s cancer was caused from Agent Orange or that he had a condition while on active duty that resulted in his death., They know that is impossible because there is no doctor that will go against another doctor's opinion, so my claim is in limbo and will probably be denied again.   

   In Vietnam, Jerrys nickname was Lucky Pierre. Jerry served in both the Korean and Vietnam war, he thought he had survived both wars. But he did not survive Vietnam, he was not so lucky after all. This is the treatment he receives for serving his country proudly for 23 years. This is the treatment his widow receives as well.

   I am still fighting, will not give up and I have been at this for ten years, and not any further than when I was when I first stated this claim.

      In 1982, seven years after his retirement, my husband was asked to take part in the Air Force Ranch Hand Study, which he did. Three months after he took part, he received a letter from them stating he had been erroneously chosen, both of us laughed and we totally forgot it. But at the time my husband stated to me Honey, maybe they found something wrong with me and do not want me in the study.

   How right he was. Some time after his death, I sent for his medical records from the study, they even tried to exclude all of the lab tests and results until I insisted I have them.  I found in the records that he had given permission to photograph his body if they so desired.

   It also stated they could alter anything on the photograph that they saw fit. What kind of study is that????  How could that be a truthful study if they saw something they didnt like, they could alter or erase it. Did he know what he was signing, I dont know, they probably shoved it under his nose and said sign here.   

   The study showed he had damage to his lungs, he tired easily and some other health problems, he was classified by them as a healthy white male. I later wrote to them and asked why he was dropped from the study but only received a vague answer. I also found out that he was not erroneously chosen as they had stated, he met their criteria perfectly. 

   The qualifications to be in the study, as I was to discover later, was that the veteran had to be a Ranch Hand or a crew member on C-130 aircraft, my husband was the latter. I often wondered why C-130 crew members were considered to be in the study. Now I know.

They did not spray Agent Orange but they transported it and handled it, just as exposed as the Ranch Hand people, if not more so. To this day. I believe they did not want him in their study because of his health problems and that they only wanted healthy men and did not want him as a stat on their records.  I still believe this even now. He died eight years later, I believe they could have saved his life if they had allowed him to remain in the study.

    To gain more information and insight about my husbands Agent Orange exposure, I wrote to one of his former crew member, a load master, and he stated to me that the Ranch Hand Study people had come to his home to interview him, he never heard from them again because he believed he had too many health problems and presumed they did not want him in their study., he has since passed away from a lung condition.

   My husband had stated to me in better and happier times, that if he ever developed cancer, he would take his own life. One weekend, when he was home on pass from the hospital, he asked me where was his over/under shotgun. I replied, in a safe place. I had taken it to a neighbor for safe keeping. "End of conversation." 

He also stated only once in the latter part of his illness, DO YOU THINK AGENT ORANGE DID THIS TO ME, I promised him I would check into it.

 Did it cause his death, YOU BET IT DID.
 And I will never forgive my Government for it.

 

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A footnote:

All of the graves at Arlington around my husband’s grave have beautiful green grass, the grass on my husband’s grave grows in patches and is most times brown and ugly.

I have noticed in the past ten years his grave has been re-sodded five different times.  Could it be that the dioxin in his body is eating through the casket and casket liner and eating the grass right off his grave?

 He must be saying "You may have killed me in Vietnam and you are trying to kill my widow with stress but the grass on my grave says I am still here and telling the world what was done to me.

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Vietnam Agent Orange Memorial Quilt,  Agent Orange Victims and Widows Support Network is promoting the crafting of quilts to draw widespread national attention to the plight of the Vietnam Veterans affected by Agent Orange sprayed on them in Vietnam. These quilts will be a memorial, tribute and honor to these veterans, both living and dead. The quilts are called "THE QUILTS OF TEARS" for many tears have been shed for these victims

  There have been more than 250,000 deaths due to Agent Orange exposure, our Vietnam Veterans are dying every day from this great tragedy and the numbers continue to grow!

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Directions for making block:

  Cut two blocks 20 1/2 x 20 1/2 inches of orange background fabric. The extra block is to be sent as well to be used as part of the quilt backing. Information on main block should be veteran's full name, rank if desired, branch of service, date of year or years served in Vietnam, unit veteran was assigned to, base or camp veteran was assigned to, veteran's present health condition due to Agent Orange, if veteran is deceased state cause of death and age of veteran at time of death.

Other information on block could be veteran's nickname in Vietnam, picture of veteran, unit patches, branch of service emblem, ribbons or medals awarded to veteran, etc.., etc.. Blocks can contain any of the following: patchwork, embroidery, appliqué, cross stitch etc.. etc..

Wording and lettering can be done in fabric pen or fabric paint in any color desired. If you do not have a Vietnam Veteran to make a block for, blocks with patriotic themes will be accepted. Blocks can be sent any time as these quilts are constantly being constructed.

This "Quilts of Tears' project has letters of acknowledgment and endorsement from the Agent Orange Coordinating Council and the Vietnam Veterans of America Inc.. It is our hope that the quilts will be displayed every year Memorial Day weekends on the banks of the Reflecting Pool in Washington, D.C.

  We want to show the world what was done to these victims, we will never allow them to be forgotten. Our heartfelt thanks to all who take part in this effort, we are deeply moved by your willingness to share your creativity in this endeavor and it touches our hearts..

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One of the many quilts that are put on display at various locations throughout the U.S. 

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Jennie with long time companion, Bob.

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Jennie  meets Doc Tom Williams.   

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Jennie and Bev

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Agent Orange Angel

                                             BY DON WARSHAW

                                          © September 11, 2004

                        So often when I think of you And all the times we've shared

                                       My heart is filled with thankfulness

                                                    To have such a friend who cared

                             You listened oh so quietly To all my joys and trials,

                                 And knowing that you were there

                                     Changed my tears to smiles.

                     The suttle love between two friends, Is very hard to define

                                    Especially when the love you gave Helped veterans all the time.

                             It's somehow like a tapestry With colors soft and bold

                         Yet deep within your weaving Shines tiny threads of gold.

                       Yes rare and oh so lovely Were your friendship's orange glow

                     For they will last a lifetime, Your story will forever be told.

                    Each time someone holds your tapestry And turns it towards the light

             The orange glow of the veteran's strifes Will gleam and shine so bright.

                Some may think it's just a thread Like those of green and blue

                But they can't compare the work that's done By an Angel such as you.

                I've been thinking late How you've touched  all of our lives

              Oh how you're yet so dear to me It gives out such wonderful vibes.

                    We Feel you're still right next to us And though you did depart

                                 Your orange threads of friendship and love

                                         Is still within our hearts.

                                     Our hearts are filled with sadness

                       Now that you have go For we will never forget you Jennie

                       The message in your tapestry sings a beautiful song.

                       We have all just lost a Warrior who championed our cause

                       Your work will be immortalized for many, many years

                                For you have made the world aware

                                       About your Quilt of Tears.

                                   We feel that you're still next to us

                                            Although you did depart

                              We thank you for all you've done for us

                                          Deep within our hearts.

                          REST IN PEACE JENNIE, YOU WILL BE MISSED BY ALL

                                 Permission given by the author for the use of his poem

This plaque was presented posthumously on behalf of The Silver Rose Organization.  Jennie's work will continue.  It will travel with the "Quilt Of Tears" displays.  Thank you Sheila and Henry for carrying on with Jennie's mission.  

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We will miss Jennie.  She has left us to join Jerry and her beloved veterans.... but never forgotten .   .  Rest In Peace dear lady.  We thank you for all your kindness and caring.

Your friends at Veterans Wives and Families

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Left to right...Patti and Paul Bunyan, Sheila and Henry Snyder.  Picture taken Aug.2006 in Portland, Maine, where the traveling wall and the Quilts of Tears were displayed. 

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Click on the links below to see more tributes..

Memorial by B.W. Milne                           

Memorial by D. Weasonforth

Sheila and Henry

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