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SPECIAL REPORT: Agent Orange Tragedy Haunts Vietnam War VeteransAvigail Olarte Special to Salem-News.com
Victims say the US should accept responsibility for the war and fully support Agent Orange victims
(DaNang, Viet Nam ANN) - The forest was as silent as the dead. Everywhere he turned, Doan Hong Chuong saw rot and decay. Trees were lifeless, jungle birds decayed on the ground, and fish floated in dead ponds.
He and other soldiers from his platoon would walk through defoliated zones in central Vietnam, drink water from ponds and bomb craters and ate bananas that littered the ground. They tasted bitter, he recalls, but they had little to survive on.
It was 1968, and the north Vietnamese government was waging a war against the south and the US, who were preventing a communist takeover. The US military would fly C-123 planes loaded with herbicides, most of which were Agent Orange, over acres of forests to strip away the enemy's cover.
As the planes flew, war veteran Doan Hong Chuong remembers he and his platoon would run for cover, piss on their towels and wrap them around their face. He says they would suffer from headaches and nausea after each spraying, though he and his platoon knew nothing then of how deadly the toxic herbicides were.
Years after, after the war ended in 1975, he would be diagnosed with diabetes and after a series of blood tests, the local hospital confirmed that his illness is linked with his exposure to Agent Orange dioxin.
Of the 5,000 war veterans in Danang, 906 are confirmed Agent Orange victims. Having served in the war, they receive about 4 to 5 million dong a month and 1 million dong as dioxin victims. For most, especially those unable to work, the amounts could barely sustain them and their families-many of whom have fathered children with multiple disorders.
In Danang, the family of Mai Tinh-a Vietnam soldier who served the government right after the war-is one of the worst victims of Agent Orange victims. When the US troops pulled out of Vietnam, he was hired to destroy storage bins of Agent Orange in Phu Cat. They would load the bins onto a truck, take them to the mountains and bury them in an isolated area. He and 70 other soldiers did this for three years and were never told how dangerous coming in contact with the chemicals was.
When he returned to Danang in 1987, he began to have a strange rash all over his body and doctors would later confirm that the breakouts were caused by high levels of dioxin in his body. Only then did he discover that his two children-his daughter suffering from mental retardation and semi-paralysis and his son from cerebral palsy-are also Agent Orange victims.
Unlike Doan Hong Chuong, men like Mai Tinh who served post-war do not receive the same benefits. All he gets is aid for him and his children as dioxin victims. His wife stays at home to look after their children, feeds and bathes them, while he tries to earn a little more by laying bricks on people's houses.
"They lie there all day and when we grow older and die, who will help them?" he says, as his wife lifts her son's limp legs so he could pee in a green plastic tub. His daughter, 22, stares and watches, as ants and flies feasted on her seemingly lifeless limbs.
Mai Tinh says the US should accept responsibility for the war and fully support Agent Orange victims like him and his children.
"The Vietnamese government has been helping us. But what about the US? Will their government look after my children?"
There are many who share Mai Tinh's sentiment, as the legacy of Agent Orange could go on for generations and the Vietnamese government needs help in supporting victims.
"There is no economic analysis of cost. The US has never accepted that there is any link between dioxin and the disease. But by Vietnam's definitions, there are millions of people who have been affected and there's evidence that it has been passed on from one generation to another," says a Vietnamese expert.
The Vietnamese Association for Victims of Agent Orange in Hanoi also says: "The US has to take responsibility for their actions. So far, they have paid attention to the clean-up but more needs to be done to help millions of victims who continue to suffer."
Special thanks to Chuck Palazzo and Paul Sutton
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