My sister’s brother-in-law died last week after a long and hard fought battle against cancer. He was 63. His death was especially poignant because his type of cancer was directly linked to his exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam. He wasn’t drafted. He enlisted when he was 18, right after graduating from high school. Wikipedia describes Agent Orange: Agent Orange is the code name for one of the herbicides and defoliants used by the U.S. military as part of its herbicidal warfare program, Operation Ranch Hand, during the Vietnam War from 1961 to 1971. Vietnam estimates 400,000 people were killed or maimed, and 500,000 children born with birth defects.
The same article describes the effects on American soldiers who were exposed to the chemicals:Some studies showed that veterans who served in the South during the war have increased rates of cancer, and nerve, digestive, skin and respiratory disorders. Veterans from the south had higher rates of throat cancer, acute/chronic leukemia, Hodgkin’s lymphoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, prostate cancer, lung cancer, colon cancer, soft tissue sarcoma and liver cancer. Other than liver cancer, these are the same conditions the US Veteran’s Administration has determined may be associated with exposure to Agent Orange/dioxin, and are on the list of conditions eligible for compensation and treatment.
The article continues:While in Vietnam, the veterans were told not to worry, and were persuaded the chemical was harmless. After returning home, Vietnam veterans began to suspect their ill health or the instances of their wives having miscarriages or children born with birth defects might be related to Agent Orange and the other toxic herbicides to which they were exposed in Vietnam.
Agent Orange got its name from the stripes painted on the barrels that dropped the dioxin into Vietnam. Some of the veterans who died from exposure were not in Vietnam; they were to soldiers who loaded the barrels onto the planes.
Jim fathered five children, all of whom were born healthy so he was much luckier than some. His wife, children and their spouses and some of his grandchildren were with him when he died. He lived a life of which he could be proud but it was a life shortened by an instrument of war aimed at the enemy but literally blown back on those fighting another war for which there was no reason. He married his high school sweetheart after he returned from Vietnam and after more than forty years of marriage she must now create a life without him.
The Paris Peace Accords, ending US participation in the fighting, were signed in January, 1973. Children born that year are nearly forty years old themselves and it is unlikely they know much about a war which was a watershed in our history. The country was so polarized over Vietnam that the rifts it created have never been repaired.
Within the next few days, I will post a review of Tim Hallinan’s most recent book in the Poke Rafferty series, THE FEAR ARTIST. Set in present day Thailand, Poke has to deal with events related to the war in Vietnam that was over before he was born. If I gave stars, THE FEAR ARTIST would get ten.