From Vietnam Veterans Against the War,

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Obituary for Zak Wachtendonk

By Richard Stacewicz

Zak Wachtendonk died on March 18, 2009. He was born to Jim and Sukie on February 8, 1979. Like thousands of children of Vietnam Veterans who had been exposed to Agent Orange, Zak was born with chromosomal damage that severely impacted his ability to live a normal life. He suffered seizures when exposed to airborne chemicals and dealt with a myriad other physical problems. Despite all of the obstacles he faced, Zak was an incredible human being who touched the lives of everyone who knew him. He was known as a gentle and deeply caring young man who overcame many of his physical problems with sheer will and determination. He took part in family activities and was a fixture at VVAW campouts in Wisconsin. The numerous testimonials of those who knew him well are best reflected in the words of Dave Kettenhofen who wrote that he will never forget "his upbeat attitude and the permanent smile on his face." Over time, Zak developed a deep and ongoing interest in computers. He managed to channel his energies into various activities and interests while at the same time having to confront his ongoing physical challenges. His life is to be celebrated for the joy he brought to others and the great strength he exhibited. That he, and countless others like him, have had to endure the tragic consequences of a war that preceded their time on this planet serves as a reminder that the effects of any war are generational and enduring. This is a lesson that should never be forgotten and his life has been a reminder of that legacy. Zak's love of life and his indomitable spirit will also live on in the hearts and minds of all who have known him. He will also continue to help others due to his desire to be an organ donor. As Sukie, Zak's mother wrote, "His eyes will help others see with wisdom. His bones and muscles will allow another human being to walk tall and straight. His arteries and veins will perhaps help another crusty old vet have a couple more years under his belt. His skin will be grafted onto burn victims in hospitals all over the country." Live on Zak!

Richard Stacewicz is a Ph.D. in history, author of Winter Soldiers, and Professor of History and Social Science at Oakton Community College in Illinois.

Jim and Sukie Wachtendonk

Richard Manson and Zak
Wachtendonk in Chicago, 1985.

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