KEARNEY — Rickey Fuqua isn’t sure whether genetics or the Agent Orange he was exposed to during Vietnam may have caused his diabetes.
Either way, he considers himself lucky compared to others who didn’t come home from the war.
“Some guys weren’t near as lucky,” he said.
A 1965 Kearney High School graduate Fuqua, then 18, was working at Kearney’s Caldwell Manufacturing when he was drafted into the U.S. Army.
His twin brother Rex enlisted in the Air Force and his older brother Jimmy enlisted in the Navy before being drafted.
Fuqua, now 72, recalled being scared to death to go to war.
“I didn’t really want to go. But if you’re called, you go,” he said. “Really, now I think about it, I’m glad I went. In the long run it made me grow up a lot.”
Fuqua was with an engineering detachment, quartermaster supply that operated a supply yard a Tuy Hoa, on the eastern edge of Vietnam, between Ho Chi Minh City and Da Nang, along the coast. He helped outfit building supplies to troops.
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“We handled everything but ammunition. Lumber, nails, paint, sandbags ... Basically, any type of building material,” he said.
The supplies included large quantities of 55-gallon drums of Agent Orange, a powerful herbicide sprayed to eliminate forests and crops in Vietnam.
Although he was never near the front lines of the war Fuqua did have a close call. One day he and another soldier went to a nearby village to pick up Vietnamese to work in the supply yard. Fuqua, his driver and the Vietnamese were in a 2½-ton truck heading back to Tuy Hoa when they took enemy fire.
One bullet whizzed by Fuqua’s ear.
“I told our driver, ‘Floor it, Sammy.’ He said, ‘I’ve got it floored.’”
Fuqua served from 1966 to 1968, and after the war drove truck for several years and was a carpenter. In the late 1970s he enlisted with the Nebraska Army National Guard and was stationed with Kearney’s headquarter unit as a medic for 12 years.
“I just thought there was more I could do,” he said.
At the same time Fuqua worked maintaining roads for the Buffalo County Highway Department for 22 years, retiring in 2012. He and his wife Cheryl then moved to Red Cloud where she still lives.
Earlier this year Fuqua moved into the Central Nebraska Veterans’ Home at Kearney for health reasons. Although Fuqua, his mother and other family members have Type 2 diabetes, he can’t help but wonder if being around large quantities of Agent Orange during his tour also played a role in his diagnosis.
“It makes you wonder. I was around a lot of that stuff,” he said.