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'The greatest honor': 3 names added to California Vietnam Veterans Memorial

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Three names were enshrined on the California Vietnam Veterans Memorial on Saturday.

The names were read aloud during an elaborate ceremony on the California State Capitol grounds.

Joining more than 5,000 other Vietnam veterans on the memorial were MSgt. William A. Gerg, U.S. Air Force, of North Highlands; Spec. 4 James E. Williams, U.S. Army, of Bakersfield; and CTM2 Gregory K. Zeller, U.S. Navy, of Pasadena.

"It is like the greatest honor that I think that anybody could have done for him, for the things that he did for everybody," said William Gerg about his father.

Unlike the overwhelming majority of names at the memorial, Gerg's father made it home from his two tours in Vietnam, where he served as an Air Force flight engineer.

Decades later, the veteran would succumb to the effects of cancer in 2009 as a result of Agent Orange.

"It was trials and tribulations of therapies, different therapies," he said.

Gerg's name is one of approximately 39 added to the memorial since the passage of a 2013 law that allowed the names of veterans who returned home but later died due to health conditions suffered during their wartime service -- things like Agent Orange poisoning or post-traumatic stress disorder -- to be added to the memorial.

"The 5,832 names up here are for men who never came home, and so this is about them," said Linda McClenahan, a Vietnam veteran and former chair of the memorial committee.

She believes servicemen and women like Gerg should be honored, just not on the memorial where the vast majority of names belong to those who never made it home.

She also said, as a measure of practicality, there's simply not enough space to add the names of every Vietnam veteran.

"I do want to honor and remember them, but not on this memorial," she said. "I think they do need to be acknowledged, but not here."

McClenahan said there are discussions taking place within the Capitol regarding some sort of separate acknowledgement.

Assemblymember Ken Cooley, D-Rancho Cordova, said he's not aware of those conversations and expressed support for names like Gerg's to be included.

"I don't know that there's room on this wall for everyone in every category that the war touched, but I think the addition of some of these names is a reminder (the war) cast its dark, dark shadow across a great many lives," Cooley said.

Gerg wasn't upset by McClenahan's opinion, saying that everyone is entitled to one, but he did not let it detract from his father's service.

"His death came from what happened over there. It just didn't happen over there," he said.

READ MORE:'The greatest honor': 3 names added to California Vietnam Veterans Memorial

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