RIO GRANDE – A small group of U.S. military veterans gathered at the corner of Routes 9 and 47, Aug. 10, to bring awareness to the fact that there are many Vietnam veterans and their family members who still suffer from the effects of Agent Orange.
The occasion was Agent Orange Awareness Day, which Vietnam veterans have acknowledged for at least 10 years.
Agent Orange was the name given to a tactical herbicide that was used to defoliate jungle areas in Vietnam. The name comes from the orange band around the barrels. The chemical name for Agent Orange is dioxin.
A flier addressed to the “brothers and sisters” of Vietnam Veterans of America, Chapter 955, Wildwood, invited veterans to attend the awareness event, Aug. 10, to “help to make the public aware of the crisis that Vietnam veterans are facing with “Agent Orange.”
U.S. Army veteran John Crowley from the Anglesea section of North Wildwood has a grandson who developed cancer when he was less than 2 years old. He said the Air Force dropped a lot of Agent Orange in Vietnam, and it was also tested in places such as Hawaii and Puerto Rico.
He, like others, believes that the effects of Agent Orange have been passed down to their children.
Dan Pavese, Chapter 955 president who served in the 199 Light Infantry in Vietnam, believes that millions of people have died as a result of exposure to Agent Orange and other toxins. Others, such as Harry Weimer, past president of VVA Chapter 955, suffer from the effects of Agent Orange, Pavese said.
“Mostly all of our members have one disease or another,” Pavese said. “And it’s passed down to the family.”
Army veteran John Vollrath said there are numerous presumptive diseases that have Agent Orange at their root. Pavese said the government has not acknowledged the continuous effects of Agent Orange, which means veterans and their family members cannot receive government-funded treatment.
“That is not what our country is,” he said.
William Davenport served in the U.S. Marines and was in Vietnam in 1968. He believes he was exposed to Agent Orange in three locations during his time of service.
He spent two 20-day periods in Vieques, Puerto Rico, near a testing site for Agent Orange. Later he was on a troop carrier that he said was previously used to transport Agent Orange. Finally, he served a tour in Vietnam and had been in an area of deforestation before he knew anything about Agent Orange. He had just arrived in Vietnam and was being driven to his unit when they passed through a large, cleared-out area in the midst of trees, bushes, and rice paddies. He spent one year in Vietnam.
“I just thought someone did a good job clearing the area,” Davenport said. “I got out in ‘68 and I didn’t know until the early 80s what Agent Orange was. That’s when I started my issues.”
For Davenport, the issues are related to skin cancer. He said he has had 600 procedures, 43 surgeries, and will be starting radiation on Aug. 25. He said he knows other Vietnam veterans who have had health issues, one who has Parkinson’s disease, which Davenport said is recognized to be linked to Agent Orange.
Davenport said only 30% of the Vietnam veterans who served in the country are still alive.
“That means 70% have died. Compare that to World War II and Korea veterans – guys who are in their 80s and 90s,” Davenport said.
According to Davenport, Vietnam-era veterans who did not go to Vietnam do not have the same ailments as those who served in the country. He said he does not believe Agent Orange poisoning is a disease by itself, but like Covid, attacks individual weakness.
“I believe the herbicides do the same thing,” he said. “I do believe herbicide exposure contributes to ailments you have.”
Contact the author, Christopher South, at email@example.com or 609-886-8600, ext. 128.