The Good Seed: Vietnam Veteran Clyde Kment And His Garden

Lynn Coulter
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Retired Army Master Sergeant Clyde Kment gardens in Vancouver, Washington. Catherine Woodling, Home Depot Foundation

 

“We’ve got two seasons here in the Pacific Northwest,” jokes retired Army Master Sergeant Clyde Kment. “The rainy season and August.”

I’ve called to talk to him about the many apple trees, Asian pears, citrus, and other fruits and vegetables he and his wife, Fuji, grow on their 1/5-acre lot in Vancouver, Washington, but like most gardeners, we can’t resist comparing weather stories first. In a contest for bragging rights, Clyde wins. It’s been a typical summer in my Southeastern garden, but Clyde has dealt with an inordinate amount of rain, heavy cloud cover, and below normal temperatures.

“Our fall has been our summer,” he says. “The tomatoes and green beans didn’t really get started until mid-July because the air and ground temperatures stayed so cold. If you gave up, you’d end up with nothing.”

Clyde didn’t give up. Maybe his vegetables got off to a slow start, but his fruit trees produced enough to share. While his surplus usually goes to his family, friends, and neighbors, this year he and Fuji were able to donate a generous 150 pounds of fruit to a local food bank. Volunteers from the Home Depot Foundation, as part of this year’s “Celebration of Service” campaign, came out to help the Kments pick the fruit and prune his trees.

Until a few months ago, Clyde, 71, worked his own garden and maintained his trees. That was before a pain in his back, and a sense of growing weakness in his muscles, sent him to the doctor.

The diagnosis was ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease, a progressive disorder that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. While the ALS Association says there is no cure for the disease, there is a drug that has shown some ability to slow its progress, and researchers continue to conduct clinical trials with other promising drugs.

While we chat about his garden, Clyde moves to a couch so he can recline. He still plans to garden in a raised area, which the volunteers have elevated even higher, so he can work without bending over from his wheelchair. “I plan,” he says, “as long as I’m able, God willing, to continue (gardening). ”

The Kments donated 150 lbs. of fruit to a local food bank. Catherine Woodling/Home Depot Foundation

Clyde’s been a passionate gardener almost since he and Fuji bought their home in 1968. He served in Vietnam from 1960 to 1962 and took a short break before re-enlisting in 1963. During his 20-year career, Clyde arrived in the central highlands of Vietnam, just two days into the Tet Offensive; advised a South Vietnamese unit; pulled duty at radar and communications sites across the Pacific; and served as a stateside recruiter. He retired in 1980. He doesn’t talk about his experiences often, except to say that the combat he witnessed in Vietnam changed him.

“I had some roots in gardening from childhood,” he says, “So when I retired, I got into it even more.” Like most suburban lots, the Kments’ was planted with shrubs, flowers, and a lawn, but Clyde eventually decided that growing grass was a waste of water, time, and effort. He started his garden with a Jonagold apple tree (“I like the flavor. It’s a cross between a Jonathan and a Golden Delicious. It’s not a good keeper, but it’s great for eating and cooking in pies”), and today, his landscape is filled with the trees he loves.

“I’ve got a Fuji apple,” he says, leading me on an imaginary stroll through his garden, “and a Honeycrisp and Jonagold, and a Chojuro Asian pear, which is very prolific. We have some trees in the ground, and some in pots.” He and Fuji also grow Rainier and Bing cherries, Frost and Sun Crest peach trees, a pluot (a cross between an apricot and a plum), an avocado, and about eight varieties of peaches and nectarines. Since some of the trees are in large pots, he built a 1ox20 “carport-like” cover to shelter them.

Clyde overwinters his citrus trees, planted in 40 and 50-gallon pots, in the couple’s sunroom, so they’ll have the bright light and warmth they require. I can almost taste the tangy fruit when he describes his semi-dwarf grapefruit tree, two Meyer lemons, and his navel and Mandarin oranges. And did I mention his Algerian and Satsuma tangerines?

“I don’t grow as many vegetables as I used to,” he says. “We’ve narrowed it down to the ones my family seems to enjoy most, so we grow an heirloom tomato called ‘Pink Brandywine’ and ‘Sungold’ cherry tomatoes. We probably harvested 50 pounds of tomatoes this year. They weren’t as productive as before.”
I asked Clyde if his gardening had proved therapeutic and healing, after his military experiences.

Home Depot's Celebration of Service campaign honors veterans.

“Oh, yes,” he says. “No question about it. It’s hard to put into words, but it has a soothing effect on me. It’s like fishing when I was younger, when I’d think about how to entice a fish to bite on a lure so I could have it for dinner. Now I think about how I can plant or nurture this plant to grow vigorously, and be supportive of life and beauty, as it appears not only to me but my friends and neighbors and anyone who looks at it. (Gardening) soothes my soul. It’s like everything else is blotted out, and you’re just watching something grow.”

“I’ve been blessed to have enjoyed good health for all these years,” Kment says, with the exception of a brief period in the hospital during basic training, when he was treated for a respiratory infection. “Outside of that, I’ve been able to do almost anything I wanted to do. I have few regrets.”

He pauses before he answers when I ask how we can honor the men and women who are serving or have served our country through all the wars and conflicts, and over so many years.

“Many of my veteran friends were older than me and have passed on,” he says. “The newer veterans, from conflicts in the Middle East, deserve a lot of attention, there’s no question about that. They’ve had catastrophic injuries, like losing limbs to various types of weapons. In past wars, such injuries would have resulted in death. Today they continue on, but I wonder if more can be done for these young people who are sacrificing so much. It reminds me of Churchill, who said, never have so many people owed so much to so few.”

“(The younger veterans) represent a small percentage of us, but they are the bravest and most dedicated people, and their lives have completely changed. If anything that can be done to make their lives better, and open up more opportunities for them and their families, that would be something to pray for.”

What’s Growing In Clyde Kment’s Garden:

  • Frost Peach – a vigorous, semi-freestone peach with yellow flesh. Good for canning or eating fresh. This variety is very cold hardy and can be grown into zone 5.
  • Jonagold Apple – a large, sweet apple developed by crossing a crisp Golden Delicious with a blush-crimson Jonathan.
  • Sun Gold Cherry Tomato – These cherry tomatoes have a sweet flavor and a tangerine-orange skin. The plants are vigorous and bear early.
  • Chojuro Asian Pear – While Asian pears are also known as ‘apple pears,” they are not hybrids. This pear tree species is native to China, Korea, and Japan. The fragrant  fruits have a gritty texture and a high-water content. ‘Chojuro’ is known for its butterscotch flavor.

Home Depot salutes and thanks our military men and women for their sacrifices and service.

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