Story written by Sharon L. Perry, Founder & Kennie Thompson
Kennie Thompson served his country for 20 years. He enlisted in the Air Force, June of 1959 and retired in August of 1979. Kennie went to Vietnam in June of 1966 and returned July of 1967 and was stationed 280 miles north of Saigon at Phan Rang. Also during his military career Kennie had a 4 year tour at RAF Alconbury, England.
Kennie was also stationed and/or had temporary duty in Korea, Formosa (Taiwan), Philippines, Okinawa Japan, and numerous other exotic ports of call throughout the Pacific. Also assigned to Minot, N. Dak, Dover, Del., Alexander, La.....many, many different places.
Little did Kennie know after his stint in Nam he was carrying some heavy baggage, fully loaded apparently. It didn't make itself known until some 40 years later. When agent orange finally reared it's ugly head. It hit Kenny hard!! Today Kennie is a disabled veteran with a 100% disability rating.
The above picture was taken of Kennie when he was 26 or 27 years old. It was just before Kennie left Phan Rang for Cannon Air Force Base in Clovis, New Mexico, for another fighter squadron. The living quarters were in the process of being built and the men had to live in tents until then. Kennie carried his guitar everywhere he went.
Kennie played himself to sleep every night with the guitar across his chest and when he could no longer stay awake he'd place his guitar under his cot. One night, Kennie was awakened, with a strange thump/twang noise, he sat up, reached under his cot and grabbed his guitar. The neck decided to depart from the body of the guitar. The strings were hanging, drooped between the neck and body...Kennie was crushed. It was like his best friend ran off leaving him all alone.
Kennie's struggle with agent orange has been a very difficult one. One I might add has been very difficult for me to comprehend while working on his story. Just beware that the following picture is a very graphic example of what Kennie has had to endure in service to his country.
Kenny posted this picture on facebook because all the other guys were posting pictures of their tattoos they got in Nam. Kennie noted that he didn't get any tattoos but he has this scar which is a reminder of his time in Vietnam some 40 years earlier. As a result of Kennie's exposure to agent orange he later was diagnosed with cancer of the larynx also known as throat cancer.
Kennie had a total laryngectomy. Kennie says his "arm looks a bunch better now and it will last as long as a tat." This was one of the places where skin, muscle, tendon and other things were harvested from to rebuild his esophagus.
This is the stoma, or hole Kennie breathes through (view above pic). It's totally separate from the tube that liquid and food travel to his stomach. You can't see it in this pic but he has a V shaped scar that runs from one ear, down to the stoma and back to the other ear. While that flap was pulled aside for the removing and rebuilding his esophagus and larynx, they removed his thyroid gland and lymph nodes.
On facebook, Kennie wrote recently, "Then, besides the other scars I just got this new one...not as drastic but it'll still keep the memories alive...wonder where it'll show up next?" The stitches on Kennie's lower lip were from a knot/bump which also turned out to be cancer and had to be removed (see above pic).
Kennie also has prostate cancer and diabetes. Fortunately, the prostate cancer numbers dropped a little with his last test. As a result his status changed to watchful waiting. The Diabetes, another famous AO item as Kennie puts it, is fortunately, being treated with medication.
This is a picture of Kennie Thompson in true form, playing the bagpipes. Kennie played the pipes all over New England and Canada for years. Kennie loved playing the bagpipes and would often play on his deck, facing the woods, entertaining the wildlife and maybe an odd ear off in the distance. Kennie was also a Shriner and proud member of the Anah Temple Highlanders.
Once the laryngectomy was complete Kennie could no longer play the bagpipes. It tore at his heart to never be able to play again.
"The sound of pipes playing now causes me to experience chill bumps and tears...it was so much a part of who I was, what I did, what I loved doing. Tugs at the heartstrings." Kennie Thompson
Agent Orange Legacy
Date: April 18, 2014
Categories: Veterans Living with Agent Orange
Client: Wonder Corp.