It’s been 44 years since Marion Ervin was in Vietnam but one look at a new exhibit on the OCC campus takes him back there. Quickly. “It brings back memories. I left in 1972. Over time your memory fades.”
Ervin is viewing “Picturing Nam: U.S. Military Photographs of the Vietnam War.” It’s a traveling exhibit from the National Archives which is on display until January 7 in the Atrium of the Whitney Applied Technology Center. It’s open to the campus community and the public every day from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. There is no admission charge.
Ervin was a 1964 graduate of Syracuse’s Central Tech High School. He enrolled in Syracuse University’s ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) program, earned his degree and was a first lieutenant in the United States Army by the time he landed in Vietnam in 1971. The photos remind him of what life was like there and that most soldiers ranged from teenagers fresh out of high school to young adults. “Everyone was so young. I was only 23 at the time. Soldiers back then and even today in our all-volunteer military are young!”
Ervin spent eight months in Vietnam before coming home to Syracuse. Chrysler recognized his leadership skills and made him an executive trainee at its New Process Gear facility in East Syracuse. Ervin worked there 31 years retiring in 2003 at age 55.
Health problems related to Ervin’s military service made his final years at New Process Gear difficult. During his time in Vietnam the military sprayed millions of gallons of an herbicide, Agent Orange on trees and vegetation to eliminate forest cover for North Vietnamese and Vietnam Cong troops. Agent Orange, which contained the chemical dioxin, caused serious and often fatal health problems in Veterans including Ervin. “I started having problems in the 80s but didn’t connect it. In the 90s I found out I had diabetes and everything else followed boom, boom, boom, boom.”
“Everything else” included prostate cancer which led to his prostate being removed, kidney cancer which resulted in his kidney being removed, arthritis which has left him with two artificial hips, aching knees which have not yet been replaced and nerve damage known as peripheral neuropathy. He’s also on heart medication. Through it all he sees the glass as half full. “I’m one of the lucky ones. So many of the other guys I served with died.”
Today Ervin is 69 years old which is the average age of a Vietnam Veteran. “In another 10 or 15 years we’re all going to be wiped out. We’ll be just like World War II Veterans. You don’t see many of them around anymore.” That realization makes the photo exhibit a wonderful opportunity for people of all ages to appreciate and remember the sacrifices made. We thank Marion Ervin and all Vietnam Veterans for their service and look forward to seeing you at the exhibit.