George Thomas

Forty years after service, Vietnam veteran fights again for his life

December 18, 2009 // 0 Comments

“I fought for my life then. I’m fighting for my life now,” said Rockford resident George Thomas. With throat and neck cancer and a 50/50 chance to beat it, according to his doctors, Thomas will be spending the holidays at the American Cancer Society Hope Lodge and is being treated at Lacks Cancer Center in Grand Rapids. Thomas will face 35 sessions of chemotherapy to fight his inoperable cancer. Thomas said he hopes sharing his story might save another Vietnam veteran’s life. He hopes his battle will inspire others to be diligent in doing all they can to detect and fight cancer early on, should it strike. At 19, Thomas joined the U.S. Army and volunteered to go to Vietnam. He was there for 11 months total in 1968 and 1969. “It was what everyone was doing then,” he said. “I was proud to serve my country. I am proud I served my country.” Thomas said he never would have been drafted, because he had a high draft lottery number. He wanted to do what was right. Once in Vietnam, he faced the harsh reality of fighting for his life. He knew he could be killed at any time. He looked forward to returning home to his old life. “I used to lie awake in my bunker and cry. I tried not to cry out loud, because there was another guy in the bunker, but I’m sure he was crying, too,” Thomas said. Then, it didn’t occur to him that the worst danger could be the chemicals the United States was using to keep them safer from enemy fire. He kept his faith by reading a tiny Bible every night and through prayer. Thomas said he and others were routinely exposed to the defoliant Agent Orange—named because of the orange-striped containers in which it was shipped. “One guy was smart. He would strip off all his clothes right in front of us and wash off,” Thomas said. Thomas said there was little he and others in his five-man unit could do to avoid the herbicide, which was sprayed to remove the jungle foliage in which their enemy hid. “We walked through it, we drank it. We sterilized water from the streams, but it still had […]