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Veterans’ Voices Honoring our men and women in uniform By MARY DRENNON Special to the Tribune-Herald D uring the Vietnam War, Agent Orange was used extensively to strip the trees of foliage. From 1961 to 1971, research shows that 18.2 million gallons of Agent Orange, some of which was contaminated with dioxin, was sprayed by the U.S. military over more than 10 percent of southern Vietnam. Robert A. Plumb III, now 70, was smack dab in the middle of the spraying of Agent Orange. The Kansas native was drafted into the U.S. Army in October 1968, and soon found himself serving in Vietnam. He, like the others, didn’t realize the dangers of Agent Orange at the time they were exposed. When he returned to the States, there were no ill effects at the time. Plumb, who was due to be discharged in four months, changed his mind and decided to re-enlist. U.S. ARMY, Part 2 “Seeing what I saw and doing what I did fundamentally changed me,” Plumb said. When he landed in California, someone spit on him. It was a less than welcoming homecoming. “We didn’t ask to be drafted or to go to Vietnam,” he said. “Your main thing is, ‘I want to go home.’” Plumb stayed at Fort Hood for three years, driving around a high-ranking colonel. It was a cush assignment, because when the colonel didn’t work, he didn’t work. After a rough trip in Vietnam, it was nice for him to get a break. At this point, Plumb decided to change his career track because he wasn’t getting promotions in his field. He attended school at the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama, where he learned to repair Chaparral/Redeye missile electronics systems. With his schooling complete, Plumb was sent to Schwabach, Germany, where he received a promotion to E-6. His main job was to repair missile systems with a general support unit. He traveled all over the area, including to Spain, England, France and Greece, where they did exercises with the Germans. “It was more exciting to watch the Germans than ours,” Plumb said. He was there before the Berlin Wall came down, and when he took a tour by the wall, the other side was depressing, he said. People were dressed in gray and everything looked drab. There were guards with guns. The whole scene was unreal, he said. In January 1980, Plumb got off active duty and took several jobs before he went to work for the Veterans Administration in 1982. He started as a housekeeper and then went to work in the boiler plant. Robert A. Plumb III served in the U.S. Army, both in Vietnam and Germany. “I was the first black boil plant operator in the state of Texas,” he said. Plumb planned on working until he was 62, but his health began to take a turn for the worse. It was the effects of Agent Orange, now hitting many men in their 50s who served in Vietnam. He tried to stay on, but his health grew worse. Plumb developed pericarditis, causing fluid to build up around the heart. He has a permanent tube from his heart to his stomach to have it drained. He also developed type 2 diabetes and in 2008, he had a stroke and nearly died. The experience changed him yet again, and he felt like he had a mission to help others. He began to open up and speak to groups about his experience. Plumb spent years in treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and wouldn’t talk about it for some time. Today, he has no problem sharing his story, even though he still sometimes suffers from PTSD. If a car backfires, if he hears voices, etc., he’s ready to fight, if needed. Today, as the father of two daughters, four 574 Youngblood Road, Waco, Texas, 76706 • 254.662.5571 • JRoof.com Photo by Mary Drennon grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren, the Lacy Lakeview resident appears to enjoy life, despite his physical problems. “I’m proud of my military service, good and bad,” he said. “Every young man or woman who goes into the service comes back better people. I became a better person. I had a better outlook on life, especially after seeing the rest of the world. It was a good thing for me personally. It taught me to appreciate what I had in America.” And despite his physical issues, he wouldn’t change a thing about his military experience. “I enjoyed my service. I enjoyed the people I met over the years,” Plumb said. “I would like to thank all those women who supported their family or those who served.” “Veterans’ Voices,” featuring stories about Central Texas veterans, publishes every Sunday. To suggest a story about a Central Texas veteran, please email email@example.com.“Veterans’ Voices” is proudly sponsored by Johnson Roofing. At Johnson Roofing, we believe in America and proudly stand behind the men and women of our armed forces.