The name Agent Orange will forever live in infamy. For many of today’s citizens the name is unrecognizable. For the soldiers who fought in Vietnam, Korea, and were stationed in Southeast Asia in support of the Vietnam War, the name is synonymous with pain, suffering, and death. But for a handful of USO volunteers and civilian contractors, the name is synonymous with betrayal by the country they loved.
Agent Orange for those not old enough to remember, never paid much attention to it and the Veterans who filed claims for help with the VA, and to those who just don’t give a rat’s behind which include the Department of Defense, the politicians of the Sixties and Seventies who knew about the hazards of the product but ignored the warnings…”this Bud’s for you”!
For those unfamiliar with Vietnam, you’ll find it located just below China bordered on the east by the Gulf of Tonkin and the South China Sea, and bordered on the west by Cambodia, and Laos. Vietnam is a country of tropical lowlands, hills, and densely forested highlands, with level land covering about 20% of the area. The country is divided into the highlands and the Red River Delta in the north; and the Central Mountains, and the coastal lowlands - the Mekong Delta in the south. With the year round humidity averaging about 85%, it is the perfect environment for the promotion of dense vegetation and an ideal setting for agricultural, particularly in the south, but less than an ideal place to fight a war.
Throughout its history the vegetation proved to be ideal cover and concealment for the warring armies which could move pretty much at will through the jungle vegetation. This was devastating for the French in their war with the Democratic Republic of Vietnam which finally ended in the battle of Dien Bien Phu. Following the loss at Dien Bien Phu the French agreed to withdraw its forces from all its colonies in French Indochina, while stipulating that Vietnam would be temporarily divided at the 17th parallel, with control of the north given to the Viet Minh under the rule of Ho Chi Minh. Below the 17th parallel the south became the State of Vietnam. This temporarily prevented Ho Chi Minh from gaining control of the entire country.
Enter the United States support for South Vietnam in an effort to prevent the spread of communism and prevent an invasion of South Vietnam by Ho Chi Minh. President Kennedy sent in CIA and Green Beret Troops to train the South Vietnamese military. With constant conflicts with the guerrillas attempting to subvert the government of South Vietnam the troop levels eased up to nearly 16,000 “U.S. military advisors”. By December 1961 the Viet Cong guerrillas controlled much of the countryside in South Vietnam and frequently ambushed South Vietnamese troops. The number of Viet Cong and North Vietnamese regulars grew to about 170,000 in strength.
Throughout the next three years, the Viet Cong received military support from the Republic of North Vietnam, the Chinese, and the USSR, which led to peripheral conflicts in the Tonkin Gulf and brought about air conflicts involving U.S. aircraft as the country slowly crept into a full scale war with the U.S. taking up more and more of the combat roles in just self-defense. On March 1, 1965, Ambassador Maxwell Taylor had informed South Vietnam that the United States was preparing to send the Marines to Vietnam, but needed a formal invitation from the government. Three days later, invitation in hand, the United States landed 3500 Marines on the beach north of Da Nang, and within two hours Marines were landing at the airbase in Da Nang…war was on.
Before the long conflict would end, U.S. troop levels would rise to 540,000 American Marines and Army personnel. Long forgotten was the original intent of the American troops freeing up the South Vietnamese military to go out into the countryside to battle the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese army, and the U.S. was forced into carrying most of the burden of defending South Vietnam leading to the loss of 58,220 military personnel.
What is Agent Orange? Agent Orange along with the Rainbow Defoliants were use by the U.S. to deprive the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese army of the use of the jungle to hide troop movements, food, and cover. Defoliants were part of the U.S. military’s herbicidal warfare program to clear and prevent vegetation growth in the jungles and countryside of South Vietnam. Operation Ranch Hand, which technically ran from 1961 to 1971 sprayed 20 million of gallons of defoliants over the countryside and brought with it long-term consequences for the civilian populations of Vietnam as well as for military personnel who were exposed to the chemicals.
Agent Orange is sometimes used broadly when talking about all of the defoliant chemicals that were used during the Vietnam War. Little known to outsiders, the chief ingredient in the defoliant chemicals, Dioxin, underwent military tests during the early Forties and revealed it to be one of the most deadly compounds recorded to date and led Congress to list Dioxin as a potential WDM (weapon of mass destruction). In the jungle battles which ensued in the South Pacific during WWII, the government opted not to use it to deprive the enemy of cover. The thought about its exposure and subsequent health problems which could occur with contact were overlooked when it came to Korea and again in Vietnam.
The problems of using such chemicals were that true-to-form, and understanding military training procedures, the safe handling, exposure, and use of Dioxin was left to happenstance, with training passed down from military personnel to military personnel, with little regard to whether or not the training was sufficient to prevent mis-handling during the mixture process; transportation; personal exposure during application; and follow-up decontamination. Also nothing was done to address the exposure our military would face when they went into the jungles and countryside following aerial spraying by planes and helicopters. And finally, with wind currents able to carry the chemical for miles outside the targeted area, it was impossible to curtail the sprayings to specific boundaries.
Dioxin, being one of the most poisonous chemicals known to man has proven to be the cause of so much damage and has been linked to many cancers and birth defects both in the civilian populations of Vietnam and in our own military. For those of us who have studied the genetic links to those exposed to Dioxin, it is not just a single generational problem, but because of such unknown concentrations of Dioxin used in covering Vietnam, we believe there is proof of second generational problems yet to be confirmed.
With this information in hand you can understand why those Veterans of both Korea and Vietnam are so angry with the denials of our government which had not one ounce of hesitation over using Agent Orange and exposing them to a life-time of medical problems, and in many cases became a death sentence.
The U.S. government along with Dow, Monsanto, and other companies that manufactured Agent Orange, all initially denied the possibilities of Agent Orange being the cause of the vast number of illnesses seen in military personnel returning from the Vietnam War. It took decades of litigation and tens of thousands of patient record studies to reach the conclusion that our Veterans had been lied to and that in fact, the cause of the illnesses seen in thousands of Vietnam Veterans was Dioxin related. Yet even with the overwhelming evidence still mounting today, nobody has been held accountable, and few if any damages have been paid by the chemical companies comparable to the carnage rendered our military. Instead the chemical companies continue to deny the effects of Agent Orange.
The Veterans Administration and Department of Defense, since the end of the Vietnam War have stonewalled all attempts to make things right and continue what has become a policy of “deny, deny, until they all die”. As to the civilians in Vietnam, the U.S. has hardly thrown them a life saving rope having spent only about $60 million for hazardous waste clean-up and for health services. Nearly every occupied U.S. military base we had in Vietnam and the bases in Thailand, Johnson Island, and other support locations where Agent Orange was stored and transported to, are still faced with toxic clean-up after Uncle Sam walked away.
But…what about those who were also thrown under the bus…The civilian contractors and USO volunteers who were exposed to Agent Orange? They have been totally disregarded in their pleas for help from the U.S. Government. Leslie Moore Dahlke, daughter of Hollywood celebrity Del Moore, was one such USO volunteer. Following the death of her father she headed to Vietnam with a USO troupe in 1970. After 18 memorable days, she returned home to her mother in Encino, California, earned a degree in psychology, worked as a television producer, got married and settled in Granada Hills, California.
Two decades later, when she was 38, a well-hidden enemy, which today we can link to Agent Orange, revealed itself in the form of cancer. After undergoing an intensive operation to remove an eight pound tumor from her stomach along with six feet of her intestine and other organs, she was ready to get on with life. It wasn’t until she was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of cancer, T-Cell leukemia, that she put two and two together pointing to Agent Orange exposure.
I wrote about Lesli and her battle with the government in 2012. At that time I pointed to legislation that should have covered her and the life-threatening illnesses she contracted after exposure to Agent Orange. Memo 53 was added to the Federal Employment Compensation Act (FECA) on December 13, and 1967 passed by Congress to deal with those who became disabled or were killed while entertaining the troops. Which each application for coverage she was denied. The addition clearly states… The Armed Forces Professional Entertainment Program Overseas would cover entertainers as "employees" for the purposes of the FECA and, while on tour with the Armed Forces Professional Entertainment Program Overseas, would be entitled to benefits under the Act in the event of death or disability.”
Lesli’s denials fly in the face of everything decent about America. Today the medical bills have put her and her husband in debt and the stress of facing the unknown is having a paralyzing effect.
I am reaching out to all Veterans through this article to contact Lesli at firstname.lastname@example.org, and if possible, send a few dollars. These are tough economic times, but I am making a contribution. Those USO tours and the volunteers who made the effort cannot be thrown under the bus.
Please help if you can.