VILLA HILLS, Ky. — Marine Cpl. Larry Byerly died at 33 — not abroad, like many of the men and women who had served alongside him in Vietnam, but at home in Villa Hills. His daughter, Karen Byerly-Lamm, has spent 40 years convinced his early death was connected to the lasting injuries the war gave him.
This year, she got her acknowledgment. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund will add Larry Byerly’s name to its annual “In Memory” Honor Roll program, a list of lives the war claimed after it had officially ended.
“I live every day to honor him,” Byerly-Lamm said of her father. “That’s my goal. I know he’s proud of me, but I live every single day because he can’t.”
Byerly lost his eye and much of his face to a grenade explosion during the war. He met Byerly-Lamm’s mother during his recovery, which involved extensive surgeries, and corresponded with her via letters and telephone calls from the hospital.
The couple became engaged three days after meeting in person in 1971. Byerly got a job as a postal worker in Newport.
He died in 1980, when his daughter was three years old.
She remembers brief moments from that time: “Riding on his shoulders, walking around the block, him pulling me in a wagon around the block.”
Her mother never remarried.
Although her father had been out of the service for years at the time of his death, Byerly-Lamm believes internal and mental injuries claimed his life.
Post-traumatic stress was a little-understood idea at the time he was hospitalized, she said; and the physical strain of surviving a grenade blast was evident even after he returned to civilian life.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund’s “In Memory” program is for veterans like him — those whose deaths were connected to their service but occurred after the war. It’s a supplement to the famous memorial wall listing the war’s in-field casualties.
“I sobbed when I got the letter saying he was accepted,” Byerly-Lamm said Friday. “Because it’s like, finally, 40 years after he passed away he’s going to be honored for that, for his service and his sacrifice.”
Byerly-Lamm honors her father by keeping photos of him in her home, sharing his story and wearing the Marine necklace that his father passed down to him.
She’s also a licensed clinical counselor who focuses on helping veterans through her work.
“Even if I did not get enough years with him — because I only had three, my mom only had eight — he made an immeasurable impact on my life,” she said. “He is part of the reason who I am. He shaped who I am because of what he did for our country and because of the person that he was.”