Maybe the only thing bigger than Vernon Park’s personality was his musical skill.
He and some friends had such talent, they had an agent when they were still in high school. So, when the legendary Ray Charles had a gig in Virginia Beach and his saxophone player got sick, Vernon got the call to make the trip and play with Ray. The only problem was, he missed his graduation from Ragsdale High School in Jamestown and never got the award the school was going to give him that night.
“They never gave it to him, they just put it in a trophy case because they were mad that he wasn’t there,” says his wife Val.
Tedd Melvin was a bit quieter, but earned a position of leadership when he went to Vietnam at the height of the war in 1967.
“He spent a lot of time on what they called a PBR, which is like a patrol river boat,” says his son Kevin.
Tedd Melvin came home to a decorated career as a Greensboro firefighter, but he didn’t talk much his service until there was an appropriate opening.
“I was complaining about college and what I’m not sure what I’m going to do after college,” remembers Kevin Melvin. “And my dad just simply said, ‘Yeah, I understand. When I was 21, I was dodging bullets.’ That really put things in perspective and I remember that moment to this day.”
Both Tedd Melvin and Vernon Park, though, didn’t completely leave Vietnam behind, after the war. They brought home something that would affect their lives immensely.
“In his 50s, he started having more medications for diabetes,” says Val Park of Vernon. “At the age of 60, he was still, basically, fine. But then, about the age of 66, 67, he started having complications – heart complications. He was one of the first – if not the first – soldier that determined that Agent Orange caused diabetes.”
Tedd Melvin developed prostate cancer even earlier – before he turned 50.
“He was in combat in areas that Agent Orange was heavily exposed. And that was something that he had to prove that to the VA, as well,” says Kevin.
A new group called “The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund” has, for the last 18 years, been putting veterans like Tedd and Vernon on their virtual wall – a place, online, where vets who can show they died from something that happened to them during their service are remembered, since only vets who died fighting in Vietnam are eligible for the physical wall in Washington, D.C.
“I know he would be honored to realize that somebody recognizes his sacrifice,” says Val Park.
See how it works, in this edition of the Buckley Report.