by Daniel Shea
Daniel J. Shea, served in the U.S. Marine Corps in Quang Tri Province, Vietnam in 1968, is a former member of the Board of Directors of Veterans for Peace and on the national core committee of Vietnam Agent Orange Relief and Responsibility Campaign. Photo: Daniel and family.
The Vietnam War is unfortunately still a reality for millions of Vietnamese and Americans and their progeny who continue to suffer from the effects of Agent Orange. For ten years, from 1961 to 1971, the U.S. military sprayed 20 million gallons of toxic herbicides, including Agent Orange, over large sections of Vietnam. Agent Orange contained dioxin, one of the most dangerous chemicals known to man. The World Health Organization considers dioxin to be a carcinogen (causes cancer) and the American Academy of Medicine classifies dioxin as a teratogen (causes birth defects).
People exposed to Agent Orange have died or become totally incapacitated by diseases that the U.S. government recognizes as related to dioxin exposure for purposes of paying compensation to Vietnam veterans in the United States. Children born to parents exposed to dioxin during the war and people in areas of heavy spraying – “hot spots” – still suffer from horrible deformities.
I served in areas of heavy dioxin spraying in Vietnam, thought I had survived the war and would be able to return to a normal life until my first-born son was hit by friendly fire, a chemical weapon that can cripple or kill. Casey was born with a cleft palate, prune belly, a congenital heart disease, and other birth anomalies. He suffered a seizure that took him from his mother’s arms to a pediatric ICU neonatal center. In a few weeks, my wife and I were able to take Casey home. Our life was anything but normal, what with learning to care for Casey’s special needs and the hundreds of doctors’ appointments. A year later, our second child was born, a healthy beautiful baby girl we named Harmony.
Casey and Harmony played, fought, and laughed over the silliest of things. They marveled at the world around them and their love grew deep and inseparable. Arlene and I felt we had been spared the worse prognosis for Casey’s future.
Then came the day for Casey to have heart surgery. Although too painful to tell the whole story, Casey went into a coma for seven weeks and while in my arms, Casey took his last breath and was no more. You think you know pain, but the loss of my son was a bayonet to his heart and I nearly lost my sanity. Grief took me to the depths of hell; but for the love of my wife and daughter, I would have perished.
I now know what it is like to be Vietnamese, to have your heart ripped out, to stand by helplessly watching your children suffer, to see them as prisoners in their own bodies and losing them because of a war that should never have been and a toxic chemical that should never have been used.
Although it has been 52 years since the first spraying of Agent Orange in Vietnam, Thanh Nien News reported that “62 blood samples taken at random from residents of Da Nang… [all] tested positive for dioxin… The project was sponsored by the Ford Foundation, Hatfield Consultants.”
The ghosts of our children cry out for justice. It is time to repair the damage and to recognize the suffering of families, the Vietnamese and ours.
We of the Vietnam Agent Orange Relief and Responsibility Campaign along with Veterans For Peace are now rewriting legislation to provide medical, rehabilitative and social services compensation to Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange; remediation of the dioxin-contaminated hot spots; and medical services for children and grandchildren of U.S. Vietnam veterans and Vietnamese-Americans born with the same diseases and deformities.
Fifty-two years is long enough to wait to provide compensation for the victims of this shameful chapter in our nation’s history.
Thus today May 25th 2013 as the legacy of Monsanto continues its’ disregard for human, animal and plant life of the very substance we need to survive, are poisoned or genetically modified with grave consequences for our future and the future of the planet.
Therefore, I and we of the Vietnam Agent Orange Relief and Responsibility Campaign and Veterans For Peace are here with you in solidarity in the March Against Monsanto.