Often ready with a friendly wink and a smile, David James Braze was a humble man who cared deeply about making memories with his family.
Braze, who lived in Albemarle County, will be recognized later this year as part of a program that honors Vietnam veterans whose lives were cut short as a result of their service after they returned home.
Braze, along with about 600 others, will be inducted into the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund’s 2020 In Memory program this fall. He died in January 2019 of lung cancer related to Agent Orange, a mixture of herbicidal chemicals the U.S. military used to defoliate the jungles of Vietnam.
Kim Hermsmeier remembers her father — who earned a Bronze Star and Legion of Merit — as modest and exceptionally giving.
“He was always very understated in terms of his service accomplishments — he did not ever make a big deal about any of it,” she said. “In fact, he was the kind of person who preferred to work behind the scenes in a lot of ways.”
A group called the Friends of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial created the In Memory program in 1993. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, which built the national memorial in Washington, D.C., began managing the program and hosting the ceremony in 1999. Since then, more than 5,000 veterans have been honored through the program, including nearly 150 Virginians.
“This program is very important, because that’s who it’s dedicated to honoring — Vietnam veterans who came home and then later died,” said Julianna Blaylock, outreach manager for the memorial fund. “It’s a completely free program, at no cost to a loved one, to honor their veteran who has passed.”
Braze had beaten lung cancer once before, Hermsmeier said, but it came back unexpectedly and with a vengeance. Both Braze and his wife, Betty Jo, had fallen the same Saturday morning in 2019 and went to the hospital, where they kept him longer for more tests and found the cancer had returned.
“We were hoping for 30 days, because that was the timeframe we were told, but by Tuesday morning he was gone,” Hermsmeier said.
Braze, affectionately known as “Ofie,” valued time with his family.
“He had an incredible sense of humor and always claimed his age stopped at 29,” Hermsmeier said. “Every year on his birthday, we celebrated him turning 29.”
She said her father was “extremely generous” and supportive to causes, regularly making anonymous donations to food banks, veterans organizations and education-related activities. Hermsmeier, who teaches at Mountain View Elementary School in Albemarle, said her father often donated to teachers’ projects over the years.
“He would go ahead and make anonymous donations to their projects, and so a lot of the things that children use at my school were donated by my dad,” she said.
The 2020 ceremony was supposed to be held last June but was moved to this October due to the pandemic. Hermsmeier said she, her sister and their husbands plan to attend.
“We’re glad that they’re going to be able to go forward with the ceremony, because COVID did cancel a lot of things,” Hermsmeier said. “We were fortunate that his Arlington ceremony was able to go through before COVID hit.”
As he had planned, Braze’s body was donated to the Body Farm at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. He has a memorial marker at Arlington National Cemetery to honor his service.
“His final action was still giving — ‘service to your country’ carried all the way through his death,” Hermsmeier said. “He wanted to make sure that if somebody could learn something from, you know, studying his body, then by all means he wanted them to do so.”