Framed by red, pink, yellow and white roses, several hundred veterans and their friends and families gathered in Capitol Park on Sunday for the reciting of each of the 5,660 names on the California Vietnam Veterans Memorial – including three new names etched into history.
Between the singing of the national anthem and the playing of bagpipes, an American flag on the front of the granite memorial wall was peeled back to unveil the names of three veterans who each represent a piece of the Vietnam War’s tragic legacy. Sunday’s ceremony also brought closure for their loved ones who have fought to add their names to the memorial.
The new names include that of the late Capt. Brien Thomas Collins, a Republican state legislator who served in the U.S. Army Special Forces in Vietnam, where he lost an arm and a leg in in a firefight. He replaced his right hand with a hook and became the driving force behind the building of the California Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Collins served as chief of staff for Gov. Jerry Brown in his first administration, and as director of the California Conservation Corps and the California Youth Authority. He later was elected the assemblyman serving Sacramento’s 5th District from 1991 to 1993 before dying of a heart attack.
Also enshrined were Army Pfc. Richard Carmine Borrelli of Sierra Madre in Los Angeles County and Navy Lt. Jan Byron Jones of Sacramento.
Borrelli’s widow, Kathleen, and his sons Nicholas and Andrew said they’d petitioned the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Honor Committee to consider adding the names of Vietnam veterans who didn’t die on the battlefield but of war-related injuries. A bill authored by Assemblyman Jim Frazier, D-Oakley, changed the law in 2013, and the first group of 32 names was added last year.
“He was there in ’65 through ’66 and got shot in the rear end,” Kathleen Borrelli said. “He suffered from dengue fever, malaria, diabetes and the effects of Agent Orange,” an herbicide and defoilant used by the U.S. military that has been blamed for causing birth defects, cancer and other health problems.
Borrelli, who died on Christmas Day 2014, was an active member of the organization Veterans of Foreign Wars, his family said. “He wanted his name on the wall and so did we,” Nicholas Borrelli said. “It’s a big-time honor to have his name read every year.”
Instead of flowers at his funeral, Borrelli asked that money be donated to create a veterans clinic at Pasadena City College, Andrew Borrelli said. “And we donated $2,500 for America’s VetDogs, who serve veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.”
That resonated with the family of Lt. Jones, a California State University, Sacramento, history grad who entered Officer’s Candidate School, served in Vietnam and took his own life in 1973 due to PTSD.
“He didn’t say a lot about what happened because he kept it bottled up,” said his sister, Paula Jones Winter of Riverside. “We didn’t know what PTSD was then.”
“He’s finally getting his recognition – we’ve said all along he was a casualty,” Jones said, her wooden American flag earrings bobbing as she wiped the tears from her eyes.
Before the Honor Committee was created in 2014, some Vietnam War veterans opposed adding the names of those who didn’t die in combat, even if they finally succumbed to the effects of war.
However, Jones’ uncle Wayne Jones, who also served in Vietnam, said his nephew gave his life for his country, even if it wasn’t in a firefight. “It’s a great honor for him to be up there, and it’s closure for all of us,” he said.
Few public mental health services were available for veterans when Jan Byron Jones was battling his PTSD, said Paul Sullivan, deputy secretary of communications for the Department of Veterans Affairs. In 2010, President Barack Obama signed a bill to change the regulations so that surviving veterans with PTSD could get disability insurance and free health care. About 400,000 veterans have entered the VA system since then, Sullivan said.
“More than a million veterans have called the number,” Sullivan said of 1 800-273-TALK, “and more than 50,000 have been rescued.”