One veteran’s story about fighting Agent Orange

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Many Americans believe that we lost the war in Vietnam. We did not lose that war. Our government just quit paying for it. The Wall Street investors, munitions makers, military contractors, etc., felt they had made all the money that could be made out of that investment, so they simply stopped investing in it. When their balance sheets kept tipping into liability, that was it. 

Human lives mean nothing to those people. They only care about the almighty dollar and how much money can be made off their investments. At the expense of over 58,000 Americans killed, all of the wounded that came out of that war and countless Vietnamese lives, we just quit. What a crime against humanity!

For everything, there is a price, and America’s price in ruined lives from that war is staggering. Two weeks after watching on TV as Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese military, I entered a VA hospital, diagnosed with severe depression. I was a patient in that VA hospital for nine months while the staff tried everything in the pharmacy to try to alleviate the symptoms of my depression. I just could not accept the outcome of that war, after all of the carnage and bloodletting I had witnessed while there. Years later, I suffered through thousands of panic attacks, nightmares and flashbacks. I was finally diagnosed by the VA as having Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

In 1957, scientists warned our federal government not to use Agent Orange. All of the warnings from the scientific and medical community about the potentially detrimental human toxic health effects of this chemical were totally ignored. Our all-wise government used it anyway. The U.S. government paid Dow Chemical, Dupont, Monsanto and others to sell it Agent Orange to be sprayed on South Vietnam, which is a country about the size of Minnesota. 

Almost 22 million gallons of Agent Orange were sprayed on South Vietnam during the course of that conflict. The logic for the spraying these criminals offered to the American general public was that Agent Orange needed to be used to defoliate the Vietnamese jungle, which had been there for centuries, in order to stop the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese from using the jungle as a food source and hiding cover. 

The results proved to be a long list of medical problems for humans. Anything that defoliates a three-canopy jungle almost overnight cannot be healthy for humans. That is just plain common sense. The culprits did not care and they used it anyway. They only cared about the money that could be derived from the military contracts.

Nobody on either side of my family has ever had diabetes but I have it, and I sincerely believe it is because of Agent Orange exposure while I served in the military in South Vietnam for those two years. This chemical has been proven to destroy the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas. Many other Vietnam veterans are also diabetic. The number of Vietnam veterans who are diabetic is much higher than the national average. I have congestive heart failure and a heart murmur. Many Vietnam veterans have cardiovascular problems from Agent Orange exposure. In addition, they have much higher-than-normal rates of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and soft tissue sarcoma, and suffer from many skin problems. The epidemiology studies by our government and by the medical community concerning the toxic health effects of Agent Orange exposure were never anywhere near extensive. In fact, such studies were clearly hindered by our government. 

But my point here is all of the medical problems currently suffered by Vietnam veterans were predicated by medical scientists long before the spraying of this chemical in South Vietnam and long before it was authorized for use by our government. Agent Orange has been proven to mutate and destroy human cells just by touching them.

It does no good for me to be angry about all of these harsh facts, so I just try to deal with my medical problems on a day-to-day basis. I worked 16 to18 hour days, seven days a week while serving in South Vietnam. I never got enough sleep. Now I have sleep apnea. And there was no let-up, unless you went on R&R for a week. The first tour in South Vietnam I was just too busy to go on R&R. 

Due to genetic alterations in plants from the spraying of Agent Orange in South Vietnam, weird forms of flora began growing there immediately after the spraying. Because of known chromosome damage in humans from Agent Orange exposure, I personally decided not to have children. I explained all of this to my wife but we did have a son, and my son subsequently has had a lot of medical problems. The children of many Vietnam veterans also suffer because of the spraying of this chemical. Again, these numbers are much higher than the national average.

I am very proud of the effort that Vietnam veterans made in South Vietnam. Many of them were wounded or killed in that effort. I don’t want Americans to forget this fact. I sincerely believe that Vietnam veterans could not have made any more of an effort to accomplish our mission of trying to save South Vietnam from Communist rule. I am also very proud to have served with these brave and honorable veterans. 

Finally, if you believe that Vietnam veterans are not suffering because of their military service in South Vietnam, I can only hope that you will think about this article. 

 Cruz is a resident of Kalispell

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