Brig. Gen. Heston honored with memorial walkway

Published: Sep. 7, 2019 at 10:54 AM EDT
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A Vermont National Guardsman who believed he died after being exposed to toxins while deployed is being honored at the Vermont Veterans Memorial Cemetery.

The Brigadier General Michael T. Heston Memorial Walkway was unveiled on Saturday. Heston served 34 years in the military and commanded at every level of the Vermont National Guard. His service included three tours to Afghanistan for Operation Enduring Freedom.

While there, he told WCAX News he was exposed to toxic chemicals from burn pits near the barracks where he was stationed. Years later, he developed pancreatic cancer that he says stemmed from that exposure. Heston died in November of 2018 after a two-year battle with the disease. His wife, June, says that’s now a part of his legacy.

“I think he would want this fight to be going on with the burn pits. He knew when he signed up for the military that he could potentially sacrifice his life but what he didn’t know is that that service may cause him the battle of his life back here when he got home,” June Heston said. “And he would want all of us to keep talking about that so others don’t go through that.”

General Heston’s daughter, Dr. Kelsey Heston, delivered the keynote address. She shared fond and funny memories of her father, some of which were told to her by his fellow comrades who described him as tough but fair. She described her dad as someone who always pushed people to be their best.

“Growing up, we always had high expectations but they were just normal for us so we didn’t really know the difference until I think we got older and we actually got to see some of the impact, even after his passing,” Kelsey Heston said. “People coming up to us and sharing their stories of him and seeing how he helped everyone in the same way that he helped us.”

Gov. Phil Scott was also in attendance and called General Heston a hero.

“Mike was a hero not just for his actions but because of how he handled himself. He was humbled, respectful, committee and fiercely loyal,” said Scott.

Vermont National Guard Adjutant General Gregory Knight spoke about how great of a mentor and friend Heston was to him and everyone he commanded. He wore Heston’s uniform to the ceremony.

“I’m proud to wear it no matter how worn it may become,” he said. “I can tell you it just feels right especially given the friendship that Mike offered me. I don’t think we’ll ever know how many lives he touched or how many careers he’s impacted. He certainly had an impact on mine.”

The Hestons say the memorial walkway is the perfect tribute and they’re humbled by how many people showed up to honor their father and husband.

“We know all of that about Mike but to know that other people knew that about Mike is heartwarming because I know what we’ve lost but to know that other people are feeling that same loss makes me feel like we’re not alone,” said June.

General Heston is remembered as one of the highest-ranking members of the Vermont National Guard. He served as the deputy adjutant general for the Vermont National Guard and as assistant adjutant general. Heston was also a Vermont state trooper and retired in 2010 after 26 years of service.