U.S. Navy Vet Gives Life for His Country 50 years Later
Heather McCarthy and her family are close. They have their tough times, but always pull together.
Heather is the youngest of three siblings. She has a mother and two older brothers. She also had a very special relationship with her father, Michael.
He always let her know she was special.
“I am the baby; daddy’s little girl,” she said. “He always had time for me, no matter what was going on with him.” He made sure to come to every play, every recital, and every concert.
Heather reminisces about growing up in a male-dominated household. She was forced to watch football every Sunday, a sport her father loved. She can now proudly hold an intelligent conversation about the health of the Vikings’ offensive line.
However, Heather can’t call her father up after a game.
Michael passed away on March 8, 2016 as a result of heart disease and complications from diabetes attributed to his Agent Orange exposure while serving in Vietnam. He was 69 years old.
“I can’t hear his voice on the phone and I miss that more than anything in the world,” Heather admits.
Michael attended Venice High School in California until 1964. At the age of 17 he left to join the U.S. Navy, where he earned his GED. He later served with Naval Support Activity in Danang, Vietnam and returned home in 1967. His decorations included: National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Campaign Medal, and the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal (Vietnam).
After serving his country, he served his community as a Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriff for about 10 years.
In 1998, the war manifested itself back into Michael’s life when he was diagnosed with diabetes. But it wasn’t until Michael went for an evaluation at the Department of Veterans Affairs in 2002 that the family became fully aware of the atrocities of being exposed to Agent Orange.
For Michael’s loved ones, “it became more than something out of a textbook. It became real.”
Michael is one of the nearly three million Americans who served in-country during the Vietnam War. Many suffered from service-connected illnesses after they returned home. Examples of such illnesses include: cancer, Parkinson’s Disease, Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and Cholangiocarcinoma.
Heather is traveling to Washington, D.C. in June to honor her father’s memory at VVMF’s In Memory Day ceremony. The ceremony allows loved ones to recognize their veterans who passed away from illnesses attributed to their Agent Orange exposure or suicide from PTSD. Every year, family and friends of new honorees are invited to say their loved one’s name on the National Mall.
Heather sees this as an opportunity to “let our government know that we are not silent.” These men and women will never be forgotten.
Heather’s uncle, James Cordray, was an In Memory honoree in 2011.
Heather believes In Memory Day will vindicate the life that was taken from her father. It will be a celebration of the pride he had in his country and the love he had for his family. “Every single man and woman that served in Vietnam deserves this kind of recognition,” she boasted.
A life of 69 years is too short for a loving father who raised a good family. “He went to a war and his own country poisoned him. He gave his life, although it took over 50 years, for his country,” she said. “The lives of our Vietnam vets are not disposable.”
Before his death, Mike was a loyal Rams fan. He loved to travel to Hawaii were he enjoyed snorkeling with his grandkids. Michael is survived by his wife, Charlynn and three children. He was a loving Papa to his four grandchildren, Gary, Mikayla, James and Christopher. Michael is preceded in death by his parents Helen Margaret (Hart) and Dennis Steven McCarthy.
With love in her heart, Heather admits, “His story deserves to be told so that it never happens again.”
Share this story with friends and loved ones to ensure Michael’s sacrifice and the sacrifices of so many Vietnam veterans are not forgotten.
If you know of a loved one who passed away from a service-connected illness, and want to find more information about the In Memory program, please visit www.vvmf.org/InMemoryProgram
The deadline to apply for a veteran to be honored at the 2017 In Memory ceremony is March 3. To honor a loved one at the 2017 In Memory ceremony, please fill out an online application here.