This is a place where those who knew and loved Zak may share their memories. (Read his obituary.) If you'd like to sign this guestbook, please use the form at the bottom of the page.
The Zak Wachtendonk Memorial Guestbook
3/25/09 at 17:26— Bill Branson writes:
I remember Zak as a very intelligent and determined young man. Agent Orange and subsequent poisonings left him with many trials, but he faced reality with remarkable courage and became a productive member of society, unlike the feral beasts who profited by spraying VietNam and Wisconsin with poison. I can't say any more because I can't see to type.
3/25/09 at 18:19— John Zutz writes:
Zak had multiple Agent Orange related physical problems which required him to fight to exist, from his birth on to the end. His daily life was tougher than most of us can imagine. And then sometimes it got worse.
That didn't seem to effect his personality. Sure he got frustrated and disappointed, but he always had a positive outlook, and he managed to put one foot in front of the other to accomplish more than many healthy, whole people.
Most of my memories of Zak come from the annual VVAW camp outs in the Kettle Moraine area of Wisconsin. His physical problems set him apart from the other kids, but he managed to keep up with them pretty well.
One summer Edie and I set up our tent - so we got a good spot - but we had to go back to town for a night that featured a nasty storm. The wind blew down all the tents on the hilltop and lightning even struck (and fried) the well on the open basement floor.
Wachtendonk's tent failed with the rest, but Zutz's old, beat-up "Taj Mahal" was standing proud. Zak and the family crawled in to dry off and spent the rest of the night.
When we arrived the next day Jim told us about their adventure. We were happy that everyone survived, but Zak made it a point to sincerely thank us for having a good tent. I think he thanked me three times.
I'm told that Zak's organs were all used in transplants, except his heart which was too small. I'm sure that's because he gave so much of it to others for his whole life.
3/25/09 at 20:29— Dave Kettenhofen writes:
All of my memories of Zak are from the old VVAW national campouts we held here in Wisconsin. Zak, his sister Rhee, my two sons, and a horde of other youngsters happily roamed the campgrounds on those 4th of July weekends. I remember him as being a very inquisitive young man. He always had to know how things worked and why. But most of all I'll never forget his upbeat attitude and the permanent smile on his face.
3/26/09 at 01:16— Sukie Wachtendonk writes:
Such a sad time for us, but we are holding steadfast for our Beautiful Boy.
Our grief comes in waves, and subsides when the demands of daily life tend to occupy the active part of our brains, and we can, for a few moments, not think about our terrible loss.
Our precious Ree is home with us, as are Morgan & Chuckie our Grandchildren, and Son in Law, Jason. Their combined love and support soothe the aching somewhat, But the heartache remains.
We have always been a strong family, and we will continue to carry on, as Zak would want us to - with Dignity, Honesty, Integrity and Courage.
We will always honor and cherish our Beloved Son, and we know you will as well...
Zak wanted to be an organ donor, however under the circumstances, none of his could be due to his A.O. problems.
Zak will, however, live on in many other folks due to several anatomical donations. His eyes will help others see with wisdom, His bones and muscles will allow another human being to walk tall and straight. His arteries and veins will perhaps help another crusty old Vet have a couple more years under his belt. His skin will will be grafted onto burn victims in hospitals all over the country.
Zak will live on in all of our hearts and minds and souls. He touched so many with his kindness. He was truly a Gentle Man, and the very best of Jim and I. It was an honor to have his enlightened soul enter this world through us, and Grace us all with his glorious presence in our lives.
Jim,Ree,Jason,Morgan,Chuckie and myself wish to thank you all for your condolences on Zak's passing. We love and cherish you All - Our VVAW Family.
Yours in Struggle,
Sukie & Jim
3/26/09 at 16:45— Veronica E. Parrish writes:
I remember Zak as a billiant and determined young man. Most of my memories of him go back to our annual VVAW national camp-outs over the 4th of July weekends. There was also the time Ray went up to 'baby-sit' Zak and Ree while their parents got some well deserved time away. I'd hear from Ray every night what Zak and Ree had tried to pull that day (honestly, Ray loved being up there to care for the both of them). Zak had such a bright future in front of him. I will never forget him.
When I was at Michael Reese Hospital, I was responsible for changing hospital policy regarding how family's were supported during the loss of a child. For me, this was a warm up for supporting my close friends during times of great sadness and loss.
3/26/09 at 17:30— Annie Luginbill writes:
I write this with tears streaming down my face. What a wonderful, wonderful, WONDERFUL guy Zak was, and how fortunate we all were to have known and loved him. Like most VVAW folks, our interactions were primarily at the campouts, and he was simply a delight to be with. Of course occasionally his problems would sneak up on him (I remember one hot summer when Joel and I literally put him in our styrofoam cooler to keep him from a febrile seizure), but he kept that sweet smile on his face through thick and thin. I will always cherish him saying "Mommy, I mean Annie," and he holds a special place in my heart...right next to Wacky Jacky. Somehow I just KNOW that Zak is giving his "President of the Wacky Jacky Club" report to McCloskey, and they are laughing together wherever they are. Dearest Zak, you were a rare and beautiful soul, and the world is a better place for having had you in it.
3/26/09 at 19:22— Richie Manson writes:
I will always remember a charming young man, a charming family, and always an upbeat kid, who cared so much about life,people, animals, the kindest, giving kid I've ever been around. All the kids had fun at the annual campouts, including my daughter and grandson over the years, and I recall the great joy I felt when the Walktendonks were in attendance. I will forever consider myself fortunate to have known Zak His star shone brightly !!!
3/27/09 at 07:56— Rita Klinkhammer writes:
Words cannot express the emotion I feel while writing this to you.....
Zak-what a precious soul!!
I remember his smile, his gentle way, his courage, his persistence and his presence.
Of course the campouts are my most vivid memories of Zak but I also remember talking and seeing him "all grown up" and so into computers.
He will not only live on in the many people he has helped through his donations but also through all of us whose life he has touched.
Love to you all Steve, myself and our family,
3/27/09 at 18:17— Ray Parrish writes:
I learned a lot when I spent a week with Zak & Rhee while their parents took a long over-due vacation. He showed me how patience & persistence led to success. He showed me how to make paper airplanes crash with glee. He allowed me to see the world thru the eyes of a youngster again. I can never repay that debt, except by teaching other youngsters to see joy in life.
3/27/09 at 20:29— Linda Voster writes:
Most precious Zak will be so missed by his family and friends. He had the most gentle soul and was of such a sweet nature, truly a blessing to his Mom and Dad and his loving sister Ree. It was an honor to have him as my nephew, and wish circumstances were such that I could have seen him more of his growth into the fine young man he became.
3/27/09 at 22:47— Ray Parrish writes:
In memory of Zak's tempurement, I've tried to contain my anger.
Sorry, I can't do that any longer.
Maybe it'll prove cathartic.
THIS IS ANOTHER AGENT ORANGE MURDER BY DOW/DOD!!!
There, I've said it! But I don't feel much better. It's just that AO kids will continue to need help. And the Vietnamese AO victims continue to be denied help. And there must be so many families there who will continue to suffer. For generations to come for both nations!
Well, now I feel better.
Forgive me, Zak, for my outburst. Although I think I might have been channeling your outrage when you encountered injustice and disrespect.
3/29/09 at 14:46— Nancy Grider Family writes:
My heart breaks for Zak's family. He was truly an extraordinary person/kid. I've read all the other entries and I share your pain, anger and memories. I'm thinking we could all be a little more like Zak. He touched all of us. Thank you Zak, you will live in our hearts forever.
3/30/09 at 17:16— jason rogers writes:
hi i'm the brother in law. I knew Zak for 8 years and i can't say anything bad about the putz. he turned out to be the best damn friend and in law a guy like me could have! we would sit on the computer with each other for hours and hours playing games online. we live in madison for 2 years on and off and see him every day. i watched his back and he help me more than i could have ever realized. he was my putz and i was his asshole so the only thing i can say is i love you and i'll miss you PUTZ!!!
3/31/09 at 13:22— Dawm Wachtendonk writes:
I will miss spending time with Zak during the numerous family gatherings. You were an intelligent man with a gentle heart and kind soul that I can not even compare myself to. It was such a pleasure to have had the opportunity to get to know you. You are now in a place with a new healthy body that you should have had all along. I will always love you and keep you safe in my heart, thoughts and prayers. Love your Aunt Dawn
3/31/09 at 17:51— reeanne wachtendonk rogers writes:
My little brother was the best part of me there was! His death as tragic as it will always be,is not in vain.....
29 more years than that precious soul was given, is now free and no longer bound by those chains that held him for so long.
This family meant the world to him!
VVAW was there for us - as sick kids and angry, scared adults with no where to go with those feelings, that no one would or could understand. Then there were all of you...
When he was little, he would love you all because you took him in and loved him without hesitation or reservation. That strength you gave him as a child stayed with him as a man.
VVAW gave him a home, a place of safety and respect he didn't get from the outside world. I wanna thank all you vets my parents and every one else who have honored my baby brother for the wonderful man he is.
I thank VVAW for always loving Zak and bringing him HOME - To be honored amongst his family who always loved him. As a Lifelong member of Vietnam Veterans Against The War, you honored Zak as the Warrior that he was. For this our Family will be forever Grateful.
4/1/09 at 19:57— Wayne Barker Jr writes:
Although through out the year's, I dont believe I ever had the pleasure to meet Zak, but I know his Father Very well, Jim as I read these message's about Zak, I feel I do know him, and He sound's like he was a Man's Man, such courage,But what else is to be excpected, haveing a Father such as you and a wonderful Mother, He could not have been any other way, our sadness for your loss is tremendous, You have been my Friend and Brother for 30 year's, and I can testifie to the arora of Love that surround's you that effects everyone around you, Bess and I will hold you and your family in our Heart's, and Zak's story shall be told, with deep Love for you all, Wayne and Bess Barker...
4/6/09 at 16:34— Jan Barry Crumb writes:
Zak's photo reminds me so much of my youngest son, who just turned 29. The legacy of that war is still so harsh. My deep condolences to Zak's family and friends. It's heartening to see how VVAW has provided a larger extended family through all the struggles, joy and grief.
4/7/09 at 08:50— Joan Davis writes:
When times seem darkest being able to find the love and support from our extended VVAW family helps get us through. Zak will always be in our hearts as a loving, kind person who made this troubled and at times cruel world a better place. Becky and I will remember with huge smiles on our faces the wild times at the VVAW campouts where our kids found joy and happiness just being kids. Everyday we will take a piece of Zak's energy with us as we struggle to find meaning in our lives and work together for a better future for all children. His example of courage and compassion will be with us always. Remember we are always here for all of you. Love, Joan and Becky
4/7/09 at 10:26— Joseph T. Miller writes:
I wish to add my condolences to Jim and Sukie on Zak's passing. While I only met Zak a few of times during the VVAW campouts in Wisconsin, he always impressed me as a joyful human being -- a lesson we should all learn when we think life is too hard, or it is too difficult to struggle against injustice.
4/11/09 at 10:08— Mic Terry writes:
I'm so sorry that the first time I wrote my remembrance of a wonderful man I wasn't smarter than my computer, this time will be different, I hope.
Zak was a combination that you don't find very often, a warrior with heart. He endured so much in his life that so few could understand. From the first time I met him as a child at a VVAW campout to the last time I saw him he filled me with joy, never to be forgotten. Let's hope I can add this time. Peace to all.
4/18/09 at 18:46— Sukie Wachtendonk writes:
It has been 30 days since Zak's death, and we are feeling his absence profoundly. It is so very difficult to grasp the fact that we will never again feel his presence, share his gentle hugs, Hear that Belly laugh, tell him that we Love Him or collect our Zak fix once a month...
His memories linger, all the more poignant and painful with each passing moment. Time has become irrelavent. Our mourning is devestating in it's depths and I believe, eternal.
Jim and I would like to thank each of you for your messages of Love and Respect for our Son, and our Family. It has been a very hard road for all of us, these many years, and probably many more to come...
Let's all continue to work hard, as Zak's motto dictates to "Advance Daily." "Becoming More Skilled then Yesterday." "More Skilled than Today." This is Never Ending."
We Love You,
Sukie & Jim
4/30/09 at 17:47— Maude DeVictor writes:
I have had a memorial service for Zak. Sons, no matter what the circumstance, are very special. (I'm sure daughters are also, but my experience has been with a son. I remember Zak because whenever we interacted, whatever issue I was involved with, he always re-directed my attention to somethng else, which in the long run, added more value to my life. I hope and pray that each of you will remember that he will always be with us in the special beauty that only nature and the universe allows to manifest within our environment, in order that we may alwys be reminded of the good; the special and the ones who make our worlds significant and important. And in the end, we are all much better and more loving. You have my deepest sympathy, prayers and love.
5/12/09 at 02:49— reeanne wachtendonk writes:
my brother was the very best there was of me,after he died shock didn't even cover what I think I felt. Though it was close
anger that it was him and not me set in fast.My brother Zak was the most wonderful man i had ever known and never deserved to have in my life, I was so lucky to have him as my brother and my friend. We talked almost every night and had gotten close again over the last years making up for all those years we had lost for the witch I had been. and now POOF f@#$ I miss his face
I miss his smile, his laugh,his voice
his hugs. I was the older one of us I was the big sister and he was the one all the while here look teaching me!
wow all i guess i can say now is
I love you zak and i always will
5/25/09 at 19:16— Bill & Chris Wachtendonk writes:
We miss Zak dearly; we miss him coming over for dinner; we miss spending time with him. Many times did he repair my computer, downloaded fixes, made suggestions for web pages, showed me how new software would be helpful. He was a nice guy; a smart guy, a considerate guy, a good guy. We miss Zak.
9/15/10 at 16:40— Ryan BIllingham writes:
I knew Zak from his days at MATC working at the newspaper there, The Clarion. I edited the paper and he worked for it. I remember his schemes to make money! He would buy cheap snacks, then sell them for a profit to us in the paper office. It provided us with cheap Doritos and a giggle. He was a big, kind gentleman who despite his physical problems always could manage a a smile, a laugh and a warmness of heart- which was infectious. Ironically, I write this now as the editor of his hometown newspaper, The Richland Observer. I regret not keeping in touch with him. Though I did not know him very well, he has never left my mind. There were times in Madison I would see him riding a bus, or at a restaurant and I regret not taking those moments to sit with him and recall the MATC days. I regret now the loss of a possible friendship. My best wishes to your family. And rest well, Zak.
12/8/13 at 00:18— Greg Wertsch writes:
I was a classmate and friend of Zak's at LaFollette High School. I was just thinking about him - and I thought I'd see what he was up to. I'm sorry to read about his passing. I remember him as a jovial, kind, and friendly classmate. He was a one of a kind person and he helped me be a better person by knowing him. Rest in peace my friend.