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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
veteransvoices@wacotrib.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.

OFFICE, WACO, TX 76701

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