by Ed Mattson
The name Agent Orange will forever live in infamy. For many of today’s citizens the name is unrecognizable. For the soldiers who fought in Vietnam, Korea, and were stationed in Southeast Asia in support of the Vietnam War, the name is synonymous with pain, suffering, and death. But for a handful of USO volunteers and civilian contractors, the name is synonymous with betrayal by the country they loved.
Agent Orange for those not old enough to remember, never paid much attention to it and the Veterans who filed claims for help with the VA, and to those who just don’t give a rat’s behind which include the Department of Defense, the politicians of the Sixties and Seventies who knew about the hazards of the product but ignored the warnings…”this Bud’s for you”!
For those unfamiliar with Vietnam, you’ll find it located just below China bordered on the east by the Gulf of Tonkin and the South China Sea, and bordered on the west by Cambodia, and Laos. Vietnam is a country of tropical lowlands, hills, and densely forested highlands, with level land covering about 20% of the area. The country is divided into the highlands and the Red River Delta in the north; and the Central Mountains, and the coastal lowlands – the Mekong Delta in the south. With the year round humidity averaging about 85%, it is the perfect environment for the promotion of dense vegetation and an ideal setting for agricultural, particularly in the south, but less than an ideal place to fight a war.
Throughout its history the vegetation proved to be ideal cover and concealment for the warring armies which could move pretty much at will through the jungle vegetation. This was devastating for the French in their war with the Democratic Republic of Vietnam which finally ended in the battle of Dien Bien Phu. Following the loss at Dien Bien Phu the French agreed to withdraw its forces from all its colonies in French Indochina, while stipulating that Vietnam would be temporarily divided at the 17th parallel, with control of the north given to the Viet Minh under the rule of Ho Chi Minh. Below the 17th parallel the south became the State of Vietnam. This temporarily prevented Ho Chi Minh from gaining control of the entire country.
Enter the United States support for South Vietnam in an effort to prevent the spread of communism and prevent an invasion of South Vietnam by Ho Chi Minh. President Kennedy sent in CIA and Green Beret Troops to train the South Vietnamese military. With constant conflicts with the guerrillas attempting to subvert the government of South Vietnam the troop levels eased up to nearly 16,000 “U.S. military advisors”. By December 1961 the Viet Cong guerrillas controlled much of the countryside in South Vietnam and frequently ambushed South Vietnamese troops. The number of Viet Cong and North Vietnamese regulars grew to about 170,000 in strength.