Billy Demo and Harold Haskins had a lot in common when they died, two weeks apart.

Both were 74, both Vietnam veterans who were exposed to the powerful defoliant chemical Agent Orange, and both suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder when they returned home after the war.

They each had one child, a daughter, whom they raised within a quarter mile from each other on Malbons Mills Road in Skowhegan.

Billy’s now ex-wife was Arlene, and their daughter was Destiny. Harold and his wife, Ruth, had a daughter, Callie.

The families knew each other from neighborhood gatherings years ago hosted by Rick York and his family, where the kids would play and swim in the pool and the adults would discuss events of the day.

But Billy and Harold didn’t talk much about their experiences in Vietnam, even to their families.


In fact, Billy, who served as a sergeant in the U.S. Army, only started wearing a cap signifying he was a Vietnam veteran in recent years, when it was more understood just what those veterans endured during the war and how wrong it was that they were treated badly when they first came home. Harold, a sergeant in the U.S. Marines who later served 10 years in the Maine Army National Guard, received a Purple Heart for his sacrifice, having been wounded in action in Vietnam on Aug. 12, 1967.

It was their sacrifice and love of country that prompted York to contact me several days ago to ask if I’d write something about Billy and Harold, two longtime friends from his old neighborhood who deserve to be recognized.

“Both are dear to my heart,” he said. “These two men, as well as their brothers, went to fight for us and give us the freedom we have.”

I contacted the Demo and Haskins families and we got together Tuesday night at Ruth’s house. The families hadn’t seen each other in years, but they picked up where they had left off, recalling happy gatherings at the York house and, of course, sharing their recent losses.

The more they talked, the more they discovered commonalities between Billy and Harold that they previously hadn’t known, such as that they were the same age, both were sergeants, both suffered from service-related PTSD and both were affected by Agent Orange, a chemical the U.S. used during the Vietnam War. Harold, who died May 16 of lung cancer, contracted the disease because of Agent Orange, Callie’s husband, Gregg Soule, said.

Billy died April 27 of Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia, leaving behind his family as well as his longtime partner, Bonny Redmond. He also suffered from the effects of Agent Orange and Destiny was born with two thumbs on one hand, which was determined to have been caused by his exposure to the chemical. Arlene, who remained friends with Billy after their divorce, recalled him telling her about being in the rice fields in Vietnam when an aircraft overhead sprayed Agent Orange.


“All these soldiers were down there and they were exposed to this,” she said.

When Billy patronized a restaurant or other venue, she and Destiny said, he always had to have his back to the wall so he could see everything going on in the room, a habit Ruth and Callie said Harold also practiced. Both men became rattled at sudden noises or commotions. Ruth remembered the day in 1990 when Harold first told her he was going to the V.A. at Togus to get help for his PTSD.

“I said, ‘Thank God,'” she recalled. “I will say, he got the best of treatment down there.”

The Demos remembered Billy’s story about being in a bunker in Vietnam with a friend named Carl when it was hit by enemy fire.

“They were sleeping side-by-side and when they got attacked, Carl sat up in bed but Billy didn’t and Carl got shrapnel in his back,” Arlene said. “Billy took his sheet right off and ripped it up in pieces and put it in every little hole in Carl’s back. Carl was paralyzed from the neck down.”

Both Billy and Harold garnered medals for their service, both later were members of veterans organizations and both were involved in Memorial Day parades in Skowhegan.


Billy was a hard worker, having owned his own structural moving business in which he traveled the country, moving hotels, churches and houses. Harold worked in various jobs including as a meat cutter, car salesman and jewelry store credit manager.

Destiny said her father was her biggest fan and mentor when she played sports in high school. Her friends told her he was their favorite dad. She made sure that his funeral on May 7 included a military presence.

“I’m extremely proud of him,” she said, tears welling up.

Callie said the Soldier’s Prayer is printed on a prayer card to be handed out today, Saturday, at her father’s funeral. She recalled he didn’t get to hold her 2-year-old granddaughter, Waylin, until Mother’s Day this year because of the pandemic. They took to each other right away and when it was time to leave, Waylin objected. She stretched her arms wide in Harold’s direction, a vision Callie will remember forever.

“She didn’t want anybody else,” she said. “They hugged each other.”

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 34 years. Her columns appear here Saturdays. She may be reached at For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to

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