Monday, May 26, 2014

Agent Orange and those who died

The Three Servicemen Statue at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial

This Memorial Day post is a bit different than most. I'm writing it to honor the men and women who died, not while in Vietnam, but after they returned home. They did not die from shrapnel or gunshots or explosions. They did not return to the States in body bags. They came back, eager to resume their lives. They married, had children, pursued careers. But something happened to them while in Nam. Ultimately, it cost them their lives. 

Today I'm remembering the brave men and women who died from exposure to Agent Orange. One of the members of our community lost her own husband to pancreatic cancer when he was just 43. While there is no definitive cause stated, she knows it was caused by Agent Orange.

For those of you who do not know what Agent Orange is, here's a little info:

In order to rid the U.S. bases of surrounding crops, forest cover, and other vegetation, Operation Ranch Hand was set in motion. From 1962-1971, millions of gallons of herbicides produced by Monsanto and Dow Chemicals were sprayed on the ground via low flying aircraft or by boat. Most were mixtures of two phenoxy herbicides including 
  • 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D)
  • 2,4,5-trichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4,5-T)
Transported in large drums, the ones containing equal parts of 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T were marked with broad orange stripes. Thus the name, Agent Orange.

As if these chemicals were not enough of a problem, apparently at some point in the manufacturing process, the 2,4,5-T in AO was contaminated with dioxins. Later it was discovered that dioxin, a known carcinogen, is a byproduct of Agent Orange.

The veterans started returning home in the 70s with myriad health issues, including rashes, psychological issues, cancers, and a handful of other health issues. Children were born to them with birth defects. But hey, there was no proof Agent Orange had anything to do with it, right?

In 1979, a Class Action Suit was filed again the manufacturers of the herbicides. It was settled out of court in 1984 for $200 million, which was distributed to veterans between 1988-1996.

In a more recent case, a $93 million settlement against Monsanto was awarded to the community of Nitro, West Virginia. Apparently, the town was contaminated by the burning of waste from the production of AO. Of course, that's just a side note. But it's further proof of something the government and the herbicide-producing corporations do not want to acknowledge. People's lives were ruined by Agent Orange. Period.

I wish I could quote statistics of how many have died due to exposure to Agent Orange during their time in Vietnam between the years 1962-1971 when Operation Ranch Hand was active. But I can't. The statistics are skewed. Much of the research done has been affected by those paying for the research. No one wants to take the blame for poisoning the troops with chemicals. Of course, they don't. One vet dies of pancreatic cancer, another of leukemia, still another of Parkinson's Disease. Surely it's coincidental they were all exposed to AO, right? The sad fact is, we'll never know the actual casualty count. We know how many POWs there are. We know how many died in battle. What we don't know is what the numbers really are for those who gave their lives in Vietnam. 

But the families know. What the statistics will not claim, they know. They're the ones who watched their loved ones waste away. They remember. 

And today, I want to remember as well. 


  1. We have a dear friend who served with the Marines in Vietnam...died last year from cancer caused by agent orange. I consider his death a "died in the line of duty." It may not have happened on the battle field, but the battle that Marine fought was valiant, and his service did cost him his life. Well written and thoughtful post.

    1. I'm so sorry for your loss, Lynne. Thank you for sharing and for your kind words.


Search This Blog