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Five local Vietnam Vets to be honored in D.C. for 'In Memory Honor Roll'

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Posted at 10:24 AM, Jun 15, 2023

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund honors veterans who returned from the Vietnam War but died due to complications from diseases like Agent Orange and PTSD as part of the In Memory Honor Roll in Washington D.C. Five Central Coast veterans will be honored at this year’s ceremony on June 17. KSBY’s Neil Hebert sat down with family members of two veterans being honored.

KENNY EATHERLY

“This is one of my uncles, my mom’s brother. He was in WWII,” said Sandra Eatherly while pointing at a photo on a wall in her home.

Sandra was born into a military-rich family; her dad was in WWII, along with some of her uncles and other family members. She married Kenny Eatherly in 1969 after he returned from two tours in Vietnam in 1967 and 1968.

 “He was 100% disabled,” said Sandra of her late husband after he suffered a heart attack just a couple years before his passing. “My husband died in 2001, but I had never heard about the In Memory Honor Roll.”

Sandra told KSBY Kenny died 33 years after returning from war due to health issues, including diabetes and suffering a heart attack, from exposure to Agent Orange.

“In WWII, they all came back as a group and it was, you know, ‘Hip, hip, hooray!’ They (Vietnam Veterans) came back one at a time. You just got out. You came home and, 'Yeah, you're here. Back to normal life,'” said Sandra.

That unwelcome return home isn’t what they deserved, but the In Memory Honor Roll is one way the Vietnam Veterans can have their service acknowledged.

“They did do their duty, and they suffered from it even though they came back home alive. I think it's just a matter of making sure that they get the recognition that they should have,” said Sandra. “I think it just helps to talk to other people too. It helps them to know your experience and how you're feeling.”

Sandra is taking the trip to Washington D.C. with her two daughters and will get the chance to say Kenny’s name during the ceremony to honor his ultimate sacrifice for our country.

ROBERT MOLLENKOPF

“My father fought in the Vietnam War. He did his duty and came home,” said Brian Mollenkopf, a San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Deputy.

Brian’s dad, Robert Mollenkopf, passed in 2012 following a nearly two-year battle with prostate cancer due to Agent Orange, Brian told KSBY. During his time in Vietnam, Robert would write letters to his wife, Brian’s mom.

“She told me that he would write saying that they were being sprayed all the time, and they were told it was to control the mosquito population,” said Brian. “Later on, you find out that it was actually the Agent Orange.”

The Mollenkopf family has deep roots in the military; his dad, uncles, and several grandparents served in various wars. Brian says that his dad’s military background helped shape who he is today.

“I truly believe in my heart of hearts that being the Christian man that he was, he was a man that other men looked up to. How do you be a man? How do you be a good husband? How do you be a good father? He was a role model for other people. That's who my dad was,” said Brian.

Brian is not attending the ceremony on the 17, but he was recently in Washington D.C. serving as a guardian on the most recent Central Coast California Honor Flight in April.

“When we went to visit the Vietnam War Memorial, I made a display for my dad that I left at the memorial in front of all the Vietnam vets, and they were very warm and welcoming and embracing of me,” said Brian.

Both Brian and Sandra found out about the In Memory Honor Roll when The Wall That Heals visited San Luis Obispo in March.

Three other local veterans will be honored on the 17: Charles Kirk Zirion, a Navy veteran from San Luis Obispo; Stephen Leonard Champeau, a Navy veteran from Santa Maria; and Ernie Gonzalez, a U.S. Army veteran from Lompoc.