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Ashe County Veterans History Project: Virgil Elliott

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Virgil's Photos

Virgil's Story

Virgil Ray Elliott of Lansing, North Carolina, was born on February 19, 1948, to parents, Arthur and Carrie Campbell Elliott. His service to our country began in September 1968 when he was drafted into the Army.  After completing basic training at Fort Bragg, NC, and advanced individual training in Fort Polk, LA, Virgil was assigned to the First Air Calvary and on his way to Vietnam. 

Virgil sustained combat related injuries while in Vietnam and was awarded a Purple Heart, a Bronze Star, and a Medal of Marksmanship.  His unit was the most decorated Army Division in the Vietnam War.  Following his tour in Vietnam, Virgil spent some time in Fort Jackson, SC, and was honorably discharged in September 1970.  He was a lifelong member of the DAV (Disabled American Veterans).

Virgil passed away on July 6, 2020, dying from lung cancer that was caused by exposure to the chemical Agent Orange.  This chemical was used by U.S. troops to clear forest cover and kill Viet Cong crops.

Kathy's Story

Kathy first met Virgil at Rich Hill Baptist Church's Decoration Day. At that time, her boyfriend happened to be one of Virgil's friends.  He was getting ready to head off to college and Kathy was still in high school, so he asked Virgil to look out for her.  Kathy says, "He took care of me ... he sure did."  

Virgil took Kathy to his senior prom, held at Northwest Ashe High School in 1968. It wasn't long after that he was called to serve in the Army.  As soon as Virgil was discharged a wedding was planned. They were married on September 27, 1970, one week after he came back home.  They used to joke that 'Virgil got out of one war and into another.'

Kathy became an active member of the DAV as an Auxiliary Wife to support her husband and other men that fought and served. Returning to civilian life after war was challenging and this group helped.  Virgil and Kathy were married for 49 years and have three girls: Missy, Ginger, and Karen.  

Reflections written by Virgil's daughters for award consideration

Please let me introduce to you Virgil Elliott, our dad, our strength and our hero.

The word "Hero" can be defined several different ways. We are fortunate that our dad is our hero in every way imaginable.

Our dad, like many others, served in the Military defending our country and our freedom. That selfless act did not come without a price. My dad served in the Vietnam War and while serving, he and other soldiers were traveling in a tanker truck when they struck a land mine. The land mine detonated, sending the truck flying up into the air. Many traveling in that truck did not survive and others, like our dad, were severely injured. Thankfully, our dad recovered from his physical injuries, but the mental horrors of that day have haunted him ever since. It brings to mind the song lyric, "In a time I don't remember, in a war he can't forget". PTSD is something he has endured most of his life but managed to manage it the best he could.

He also managed raising three very vibrant and headstrong daughters, which we are pretty sure wasn't easy. Daddy wasn't the type of father that "ruled with an iron fist." He was extremely nurturing, full of fun and adventure. We could fill pages of the different adventures he provided us, such as building an actual igloo for us to play in during a really good snow, taking us camping and hiking in the woods "just because," teaching us to change our own oil and change our own tire. He didn't demand our respect because he was our "dad" — he had our respect because of the type of dad he has always been to us.

He was also exposed to Agent Orange during his time overseas. It was in November 2018 that our family would understand just how significant that was. A brief synopsis of this particular "journey" would be to say, Dad's health seemed to start deteriorating in October. Dad has always been a bit on the stubborn side and really didn't care to go to the doctor much. Normally, it takes a call or threat from Missy (the oldest sister) to get him to even consider it.

Fast forward to what we all thought would be a normal day, and we got a call from my mom. She was extremely concerned about dad. After rushing over and we ended up calling an ambulance for him. It is important to note: he did not hesitate to go — we knew something was up. He ended up in the cath lab for what would seem to be a normal procedure to remove excess fluid around his heart. Little did we know, that procedure would be life changing. Not long after the procedure started my dad's heart stopped. We actually heard the "code blue" announced, and it was like we all knew it was him but didn't want to say it out loud because it would make it real. It didn't take long for the Chaplain to meet with us, and tell us what was going on. One of the hardest telephone conversations, Karen remembers ever having to make, was to let Missy in Raleigh know what was going on.

Thankfully, prayers were answered and my dad survived the cardiac arrest and was able to be transported to Wake Forest Medical Center. We met up at the hospital and waited to see our daddy. It was tough seeing one of the strongest men we knew laying there with tubes running here and there. We had no idea what his outcome was going to be and we were all scared.

Fast forward a few days later, and our dad is off the vent and is rid of most of all those tubes and wires. We weren't out of the woods yet, because the fluid around his heart wasn't normal. End result, the Agent Orange is to blame for our dad's newly found lung cancer. Devastated is probably the BEST word for how we took the news. Dad knew what he was doing when he raised us to be strong females because we had to rely on that strength a lot.

Our dad started chemo treatments with a prognosis that was pretty grim in our eyes. The chemo was to just slow the cancer down. "12 to 18 months" is what we were told when he started chemo. Never have we really fathomed hearing those words, no one ever really thinks about it until it hits their family. Our dad started chemo every three week. Some weeks were really hard on him and our mom but he kept pushing on.

Just days prior to Memorial Day weekend, we got the news that my dad is now in REMlSSlON!! We are all still very guarded, but we take each day as it comes and are all very thankful that God has chosen to grant us time with our dad.

There are lots of Dads out there that are deserving of this recognition, and maybe we are a bit biased to think our dad is the best candidate, but we would truly appreciate your consideration of him for your award.

Sincerely,
Karen Elliott Ham, Ginger Elliott Joines and Missy Elliott Johnson

Reflections on Papaw - by his granddaughter, Autumn

My papaw like many others served in the military making the sacrifice of fighting for
our country and protecting us and our freedom. He served in the Vietnam war, and while
serving him and other soldiers was traveling in a tanker truck when they went over a
land mine. The land mine detonated and sent the truck flying up into the air. Many
traveling in the truck did not survive but others like my papaw made it out but was
severely injured. He recovered from his injuries but this really affected his mental health
causing him to be diagnosed with PTSD later. But this never stopped my papaw
from doing the things he loved most and from spending time with us kids. Later on we
had found out he had been exposed to agent orange which is a chemical they used to
defoliate the forest which is very toxic and harmful to the body. We noticed that papaw's
health kinda went downhill but he is very stubborn and does not like doctors. But a
normal day in November he wasn't doing so good so we had to call the ambulance to
come get him. We had later found out that he had excess fluid around his heart which
they had to remove as soon as possible. He went into cardiac arrest during the
procedure, but my papaw being the fighter he is pulled through with many prayers
helping him along the way. After this they had tested the fluid around his heart and it
wasn't normal. We then later found out that agent orange is the cause of my papaw's
lung cancer. My papaw started chemo treatments after this. He has chemo treatments
every two weeks and more prayers are going up for him. And I know he is strong enough
to pull through this because my papaw is one of the strongest people I know.

He has always been there for me and has been my crafting buddy and most importantly one of
my best friends, who has always made me laugh and picked on me to make me feel
better. l can truly say that my papaw is my hero who has picked me up and pushed me
forward. It's because of my papaw that I want to succeed in life and make great choices
to make him proud. l don't have enough time in a year to tell you how thankful I am for
you, but thank you for everything but most importantly thank you for being my hero and
making me into my best me.

Missy and her sisters share memories of their dad

For those of you who may not know who we are.... We are Virgil's girls, each of us a "daddy's girl" in one way or another. We each hold a good bit of our daddy in us.

Karen, although the youngest, possesses the strong knack to get things done, and has grown into a very determined young lady. That is the part of "Virgil" in her.

Ginger, my first true friend on this Earth, has the patience of Job and has compassion second to none. That is a part of the "Virgil" in her.

I am the oldest and so hard-headed and stubborn - that arguing with a tree is never completely out of the question. THAT is a part of the "Virgil" in me.

It wasn't until recently, that I realized just how important each of our "Virgil Super Powers" would become. We got the news that cancer was our new reality and without chemo, daddy would be with us for 6 to 8 months - with chemo, he could be with us 12 to 18 months. Very quickly, we realized not only were we going to have to combine those super powers but we were going to have to be a lot stronger than we looked and much braver than we felt.

Some days were definitely easier than others * nothing has really been easy about the last few days. I think the 3 of us can agree that it hasn't been easy having our world kind of come to an abrupt halt when we got word that daddy was no longer with us. It hasn't been easy trying to imagine daddy not physically being with us anymore but the one thing that has remained easy since daddy gained his wings is taking comfort in knowing that we had one of the BEST men God could have given us for a dad.

God gave us a daddy that would teach us tons of life lessons without us even knowing. He taught us to see things for what they COULD be and not necessarily for what they WERE. (for example, a banjo made from a shovel and can opener). He also taught us that thinking of how we couldn't do something wasn't really doing us any good.

God gave us a daddy that was hard on us at times -and we will admit, it was well deserved more times than not. I think I was in the third grade when I had the first "serious" argument with Daddy. I was happy to announce that I had a boyfriend and instead of playing along and "accepting" the fact that I had a boyfriend and was going to get married one day - he told me without any hesitation that I COULD NOT have a boyfriend because I was too young. . I tried arguing, begging and bartering but he wasn't giving an inch. I was crushed, my life just wouldn't be the same because I couldn't have a boyfriend.... And I have tried really hard to remember that young man's name but...yeah, I guess daddy was right....and it wasn't the first time nor would it be the last.

God gave us a daddy that provided us TONS of adventures - many of them taking place in our front yard.

Ginger and I will agree that one of our fondest memories together with daddy involved a HUGE snow. We were out of school for what seemed like forever. We were young and boredom started setting in quick and in a hurry. What does Daddy do? He naturally, and with ease, commenced to building us an igloo in the back yard. An igloo big enough for all three of us to play in. It was an adventure with Daddy.

Karen and I both enjoyed "helping" Daddy work on what ever project he had going on and Daddy ALWAYS had a project in progress. I dare say I was able to properly mix and apply bondo LONG before I could even boil water. Karen, I think, was the best at keeping dad's tools nice, neat and clean. He ALWAYS gave us a task to make us feel important - like he "needed" our help. Adventures with Daddy - that we would not trade for the world.

One of my daddy's favorite memories to share with me was one of the first times he took me fishing. Apparently, back then I had not developed my current love of fishing because, I think I was more or less just happy to be there". Daddy baited the hook and I think even tossed it out in the water for me. I am not sure how much time went by but I was getting kind of bored and restless. He told me to grab my fishing pole and showed me how to reel the line in. Well, I apparently got really excited that I had caught.....a worm. He would get so tickled telling that story and I don't think I ever got tired of hearing it. That was an adventure with Daddy.

God gave us a Daddy that not only was strong enough to survive the Vietnam War but strong enough to also sunrise three girls in a house with ONE bathroom, ONE TV and ONE telephone. Sure doesn't sound too bad when used in the same sentence as "Vietnam" but you must remember that Ginger and I are two years apart so we were teenagers at the very same time!

We could spend hours - even days - speaking of how lucky we were to have Virgil Elliott as our dad and not even touch the surface of the memories we hold near and dear to our hearts. His battle with cancer was brutal on him - especially at the end. He wasn't able to live the life he enjoyed. His quality of life was substandard at best.

I am thankful that he isn't suffering any more. He doesn't have to deal with pain, he doesn't have to struggle to breath when attempting the simplest of tasks. I am sad for other selfish reasons. I am sad that he will not be able to see grandchildren celebrate birthdays, graduations, weddings and the arrival of great grandchildren. I am sad that future great grandchildren will not have the luxury of knowing – experiencing "pawpaw".

My daughter shared her words of wisdom with me Monday via texted. These words have gotten me through some really tough times the past few days when I haven't felt very strong or brave. I will paraphrase her text to me after telling her I felt heartbroken..... She said that fortunately, all of the grandchildren had a bit of pawpaw in them - many have the crafty - creative side of pawpaw and they all have some form of his quirky humor. Her heart was broken every time she had seen her pawpaw and wasn't able to be "pawpaw".

Her text has so MUCH truth in it. They DO each have a bit of their pawpaw in them. She offered her words of wisdom to me, my son Ryan, showed care and concern about how I was getting here. "Who was driving?" he asked me several times. Devon used his creativity and made a beautiful bouquet of roses made from strawberries for mom in hopes to brighten her day just a bit. I saw Tyler comforting his mom and sisters last night at the visitation. Summer showed strength and bravery, as I saw her holding back tears many times last night. Autumn sang for her pawpaw today also showing strength and bravery. So physically, Daddy is not with us but he lives within each one of us in one way or another.

So, THANK YOU Dad for being an awesome dad. Thank you for loving us unconditionally and allowing us to view the world through your eyes.

You rest easy up there...and we will try and take care of things down here as best we can.