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Oct 30, 2015 5:16 PM

Vietnam vet honored with special cruise to Isles of Shoals

PORTSMOUTH - Raymond VanGorder's health has been deteriorating for years; but a special cruise in his honor out of Portsmouth harbor was able to bring back some light to his life on Friday.

At 65 years old, he's currently diagnosed with diabetes and multiple types of cancer that he's been informed is incurable. A Vietnam veteran, he said the cause of his sicknesses was easy to identify.

“They didn’t pretty much hesitate at all when they found out I had cancer," VanGorder said. "Everybody said it was cut-clear; it was caused by Agent Orange.”

Agent Orange, also known as Herbicide Orange, was widely used to eliminate forest cover by U.S. military forces during the time VanGorder served. He said the toxic defoliant has destroyed his health since.

“I’m pretty sure everyone knows what’s going on, and my time’s short," he said.

VanGorder was also in a near-fatal car accident several weeks ago. Following the crash, he decided to stop driving.

His family-friend, Elaine Plante, then started to take him out for car rides to get out of the house.

One day, the two took a trip along the New Hampshire seacoast - when VanGorder told Plante that he had a wish: a last visit to the Isles of Shoals.

"I just wanted to make sure that, hopefully, I can get out there one more time," VanGorder said.

Plante then put together a plan and was able to get the Isles of Shoals Steamship Company to donate the boat for an afternoon cruise.

Dozens of fellow veterans, family and friends stood with U.S. flags along the parking lot Friday as VanGorder, now in a wheelchair, was honored for his military service before he went aboard.

The veteran, who served in Vietnam for two and a half years in the 1960's, said the Isles of Shoals has always held a special place in his heart.

"I love it. I jump for the chance to go, any chance I can get," he said. "It’s been a long time.”

At first, crews informed passengers that the ship may not be able to make it all the way due to rough waters. But about an hour and a half later, as the sun shined through the ship's windows and few clouds clogged the sky, the "Thomas Laighton" was able to make it to the islands.

Determined to get a better view, VanGorder pulled himself up a staircase railing to the second-level. He wasn't going to miss it for a second.

The day was nothing short of memorable for VanGorder and other veterans who joined. Many said they were happy that their service to the country was remembered, even if their efforts weren't widely respected at the time.

“The Vietnam veterans, when we came back, we didn’t really talk about it or get much support," said veteran Martin Short.

After lunch, the singing of the National Anthem, and a brief presentation - the ship returned to the Portsmouth dock around 3 p.m.

Plante, who has known VanGorder for nearly 20 years, said she was pleased the donated trip was possible.

"He’s been through a lot," Plante said. "He’s a person who cares about others and puts their concerns first. He’s just really a stand-up guy.”

VanGorder is currently undergoing chemotherapy in attempts to slow the progress of his cancer.

He is unsure how much longer he has to live.

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