Freedom Fighters: Gary Kidwell - - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

Freedom Fighters: Gary Kidwell

Gary Kidwell lived through rocket and sniper attacks in Vietnam, only to have his life shortened by exposure to Agent Orange.

"I had two to six months, and that was a month ago, so now it's one to five," Kidwell said.

He's philosophical about the time doctors say he has left to live.

"I'm going to try in those months to live longer and happier, prosper and help somebody else.."

Kidwell was 19  when he joined the U.S. Air Force in 1969. He was sent to Vietnam, assigned to base supply in 1970. Even though rocket attacks and sniper fire were ever present dangers, Kidwell felt at the time that he was lucky.

"Harassment rounds is what we used to call them."

Kidwell still laughs about the time he thought he was in the greatest danger, while hiding in tall grass beside a canal. 

"All of a sudden in that canal, the grass started parting, like this," motioning with his hands. "I said, 'Oh no, it's a cobra and I'm not supposed to fire and give my position away, and finally the grass parted again, and it's a walking catfish!"

But among all the dangers, real and imaginary, that Kidwell confronted in Vietnam, he never dreamed that the daily spraying of Agent Orange by American aircraft would eventually mean his death.

During the Vietnam War, between 1962 and 1971, the U.S. military sprayed nearly 20,000,000 gallons of chemical herbicide and defoliants in Vietnam, Eastern Laos, and parts of Cambodia. Studies have shown that veterans have increased rates of cancer, and other diseases due to their exposure to Agent Orange.

"They've identified diabetes that I have that's Agent Orange, and it caused my lung cancer...that was my last enlistment."

Kidwell served 21 years in the Air Force, with a dozen of those years in intelligence and counter-intelligence. Most of the murders, suicides, and spy cases he investigated are still classified, and he's prohibited from talking about them.

Gary Kidwell retired from the Air Force in 1990, and traveled extensively before being diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. At the present, he lives at the Texas veterans home in Tyler, and in spite of the Agent Orange that has shortened his life, he's proud to have served his country. 

"Oh, I'd do it again in a heartbeat," he said.

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