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Saturday, March 20, 2010

Canonsburg veteran to be remembered in D.C.

Post-gazette NOW
Thursday, March 18, 2010

When Joanne Gump married her husband 38 years ago, she thought he was the bravest person she'd ever met. Soon, the rest of the world will know that, too.

Dennis Gump, a "humble and proud" U.S. Marine from Canonsburg who died two years ago, is among 70 veterans who will be honored next month as part of "In Memory Day" at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

The designated day honors Vietnam veterans who died as a result of their service in the Vietnam War but who do not meet U.S. Department of Defense guidelines to be listed on the memorial, which generally require death as a result of a combat injury.

Veterans honored during In Memory Day may have died because of conditions related to post-traumatic stress disorder or illness caused by exposure to Agent Orange or similar herbicides used during the war.

Mr. Gump was 62 when he died in February 2008 after a two-month battle with lung cancer that the federal government says was caused by his exposure to Agent Orange. The herbicide was sprayed by planes to defoliate jungles in Vietnam.

Although Mr. Gump smoked cigarettes, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs recognizes veterans' respiratory cancers, such as those of the lung, larynx or trachea, as associated with exposure to herbicides during military service.

According to the VA, the government presumes that all military personnel who served in Vietnam were exposed to Agent Orange, and federal law presumes that certain illnesses are a result of that exposure.

In Memory Day is held on the third Monday in April, which is April 19 this year. The day is recognized in other parts of the country as Patriots' Day to commemorate the first two battles of the Revolutionary War.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, a private group that built the memorial and sponsors the In Memory Day program, said the date was appropriate "as the suffering of these veterans was endured for far longer than the time spent in combat, enabling them to be examples of patriotism and sacrifice for all Americans."

Mr. Gump enlisted in the Marines as a senior at Canon-McMillan High School in 1964 and was among the first Marines to enter Vietnam. He was discharged as a sergeant in 1968, earning at least 17 medals and patches.

Along with ulcers and stomach problems that may have been caused by exposure to Agent Orange, Mr. Gump also suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, which caused him to have terrible dreams, Mrs. Gump said.

"He internalized it a lot," she said. "He suffered for many, many years."

Mr. Gump was diagnosed with cancer in December 2007, just months after his wife underwent surgery for a brain tumor. He was having headaches, she said, and tests showed it was lung cancer that had spread to his brain and other organs.

Mr. Gump retired six years ago from the state Department of Health, where he worked as an inspector for many years. He is honored at an annual memorial golf outing at Lindenwood Golf Club in North Strabane, where some of his ashes were scattered.

An avid golfer, Mr. Gump won awards with the Pittsburgh Golf Tour and enjoyed spending time with his two grown children, Tara Adele Gump Newhouse and Dennis Gump Jr.

Last year, Mrs. Gump said she heard about the In Memory Day program, so she applied on her husband's behalf, submitting required forms such as military and medical records.

She plans to bring a photo collage she made for her husband to the ceremony, where the names of the honorees will be read aloud and certificates bearing the honorees' names will be placed at the memorial. They will be collected later by the National Park Service and stored in a permanent archive.

Her husband probably would "get tears in his eyes" if he knew about the honor, Mrs. Gump said, though he was a quiet and humble man.

"My mission in life, until I die, is to honor my husband in any way that I can," she said.

Janice Crompton: or 724-223-0156.