Picking at a Scab

I apologize in advance for the rambling that is about to begin…or the soap box I’m hopping up on…maybe both.

The book review I’m working on this week for IndieReader, is written by a Vietnam Veteran about the herbicides and pesticides sprayed on our soldiers who served as “boots on the ground” in Southern Vietnam. The book, Silent Spring – Deadly Autumn of the Vietnam War was written by Vietnam Veteran Patrick Hogan. In it, he goes into great detail about the chemicals used in Vietnam. Agent Orange is but a slice in the dangerous chemical pie.  He shares studies about the dangers of the various chemicals, as well as the battles he and other Vietnam Veterans have waged against the Department of Veterans Affairs over the years regarding illnesses attributable to the chemical warfare they were exposed to during their service. I haven’t finished reading it yet, but I’m close enough to the end that I’m angry.

My dad passed away in 2009 from a heart attack connected to his adult onset, Type II Diabetes. His diabetes can be connected to his time spent serving his country in the Vietnam War. Not only did he have diabetes, he also suffered from high blood pressure, he was irritable and angry, and spent most days in his recliner napping his life away. (Unnatural drowsiness and psychiatric changes are also effects of Agent Orange.) And the best (or worst) part?

He was only in country twice for short periods of time.

Dad was an Air Force mechanic stationed at bases outside of Vietnam…most notably Taiwan. Mr. Hogan was stationed in Cam Rahn Bay, Vietnam. My dad was there for a couple of weeks, from January 29 to February 15, 1969. He also had boots on the ground on September 19, 1969 to repair a plane in Da Nang.

In all, Dad was “in country” less than a month and came out the back-end with the maladies above.

I can’t even imagine the situation for those Veterans who spent their entire service in the jungles of South Vietnam. Well, yes, I can imagine ~ Mr. Hogan lists his illnesses and disorders in the book and breaks them out by ones the DVA has accepted as being caused by his time in the service, ones the DVA doesn’t accept, and those he hasn’t even submitted to them yet.  In all, he has twenty-two health issues that can be tied to his time in the service and his exposure to the chemicals and conditions in Vietnam.

Until the 1990s, the government refused to acknowledge that Veteran health problems were related to the chemical warfare in Vietnam at all! Millions of gallons of Agent Orange, Agent White and other herbicides and insecticides were used. The service personnel on the ground were spraying DEET right on their skin to ward off insects.

It sickens me that all of these kids ~ because most of them were kids, drafted into military service ~ who trusted their government would protect them and stand behind them, came back to the U.S. and were treated like second class citizens. They took the brunt of the public’s scorn about the war ~ and the government allowed them to be the scapegoats. They were denied the protection they deserved from the government, and the care/support they should have been entitled to when they returned home. The government turned a blind eye, knowing full well the dangers of the chemicals before they sprayed one square mile of Vietnamese jungle. The soldiers were led to believe that the chemicals were safe for humans. They trusted their government wouldn’t let them down…wouldn’t throw them to the wolves.

It makes my heart break for my dad and all the other Vietnam Veterans who, having made it home after their tour of duty, have died from or are currently suffering from, illnesses and conditions that most likely developed while they were serving their country. Eighteen and nineteen year old kids who sealed their fates the second they stepped of the plane in South Vietnam.

My dad might still be alive today if he hadn’t served in Vietnam. Other descendants of Vietnam Veterans might still have their loved one. Not just from the U.S., but also Australia, the Philippines, Thailand and others. And what about the South Vietnamese themselves? Our service members, contaminated as they were when they left, still got to leave.

I knew of Agent Orange in the most basic sense, having learned about the war in school. It wasn’t until shortly after Dad died that it really began to sink in.  We went to order a gravestone from the V.A. office and mom just started talking to the woman and mentioned Dad having been in Vietnam a couple of times to fix planes. The woman stopped what she was doing and asked, “He was in country?” My brother and I glanced at each other, wondering what this was about.  My mom kept sharing the story.  The woman asked Mom if she had documentation proving that Dad had been in country.  Mom thought she had his orders somewhere at home, but she absolutely had letters Dad wrote about those experiences.  The woman told her to bring in whatever she could find.

My dad had just died and I was looking for something to do. I needed some way to focus my grief outside of myself. I’m a writer. I did a little research.

And then I got pissed off.

I learned some of what Mr. Hogan writes about, but on a more introductory level. I didn’t dig too deep into the chemical compounds. I didn’t know Agent White was a thing. I didn’t look for information about conditions in South Vietnam. All the further I got was an introduction to Agent Orange. That was enough information to send me through the roof. But, what do you do with this information after the fact? What could I do now? I wasn’t a Veteran, so I had no real life experience to tie this information to. I’m not a scientist and much of the chemical compound information Mr. Hogan talks about goes right over my head. My dad was already gone and I couldn’t talk to him about his experiences (not that he was likely to talk about the war anyway).

The anger did get me through the funeral, so it was helpful in that way. I knew I wanted to write about this and I spent some time writing memories of my dad. I wrote a couple of small things about Agent Orange, but mostly just as information to share with my mom and brother. Time kept marching on and life kept happening and I eventually started the writing project that spawned this blog.

But now I feel like I need to revisit this place in history. I need to revisit Dad’s death and his time spent in Vietnam. Maybe I just needed to wait a bit, for the raw emotions to scab over and begin to heal.

Maybe I needed someone or something to give me a little nudge.

So, Faith is going to the back burner right now. (Sorry, girl, but I’ve got this thing I have to get off my chest first.)

I’m not sure what it’s going to turn into. Maybe it will simply be a family history story that my niece can keep to remember her bumpa’s military service as she begins her own (she has begun her service in the Air National Guard). But maybe my dad’s story will turn into something bigger. Maybe it will become a book that will go out there into the world. Maybe it can become part of a larger cautionary tale about the evils of war.

All I know right now is that I have to write it.




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