Dark Legacy: Long After The End Of The Vietnam War, New Questions Raised About Agent Orange Exposure — Including For Soldiers And Civilians In The U.S. And Abroad
By Jamie Reno
When Army veteran Steve House tells people he was exposed to Agent Orange, the toxic defoliant the Department of Defense (DOD) sprayed on trees, vegetation and rice fields during the Vietnam War, the first thing he’s typically asked is where he was stationed in that country. But House has never been to Vietnam. He didn’t join the military until three years after the last American troops evacuated Saigon.
In 1978, House, now 56, was an E-4 specialist and bulldozer operator with D Company 802nd engineers at Camp Carroll, a U.S. Army base in South Korea, where House said he and four fellow soldiers were ordered to dig an enormous trench on the base, then bury 250 barrels of Agent Orange.
In separate, exclusive interviews, former soldiers House, Bob Travis and Richard Kramer each told IBTimes how their postwar exposure to the harmful agent has had a profoundly negative effect on their lives and that the DOD and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) continue to call them liars.
“They didn’t tell me what we were burying, but on the side of the 55-gallon barrels it said in bright yellow and bright orange letters, ‘Province of Vietnam, Compound Orange’,” House said. “We knew that stuff was bad, and I had a lot of guilt about what I’d done to the people in Korea. I also felt really betrayed by my own government and the country that I love. ”
Travis, an Army private first class and one of the two truck drivers who dumped the Agent Orange along with House, said he didn’t know much about Agent Orange at the time, “but our sergeant, who’d been in Vietnam, told us this was the stuff he had sprayed on the trees. We just did what we were told. It isn’t right that the government keeps lying about what happened at Camp Carroll.”
The widespread use of Agent Orange in Vietnam was a dark chapter in U.S. military history that proved devastating for countless Vietnamese civilians as well as hundreds of thousands of American troops. After decades of denial, VA in the early 1990s first started acknowledging the direct scientific links between exposure to the herbicide and a variety of cancers as well as Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, birth defects and more. But the government has never talked much about the allegedly harmful ways in which DOD stored, tested and then disposed of Agent Orange on U.S. military bases across the globe before, during and after the war.