[sixties-l] Korea, Vietnam & Agent Orange (fwd)

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Date: Thu Jun 06 2002 - 19:35:22 EDT

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    Date: Sun, 02 Jun 2002 13:04:16 -0700
    From: radtimes <resist@best.com>
    Subject: Korea, Vietnam & Agent Orange

    Korea, Vietnam & Agent Orange


    Toxic nightmare continues years after war's end

    Bill Berkowitz

    Nearly fifty years after the Korean War formally ended, there is still no
    peace in that troubled region. In January, during his State of the Union
    address, President Bush ratcheted up the rhetoric against North Korea by
    placing it within his "axis of evil." Today, some 37,000 U.S. troops remain
    stationed in Korea.
    My cousin Billy served in Korea during the late 1960s. A few months ago,
    after some friends told him about the Korea Defense Veterans Alliance
    website <http://www.kdvamerica.org/>, he discovered that while serving
    along the DMZ he'd been repeatedly exposed to Agent Orange.
    For more than thirty years, the government never said a word.
    This is the story of Cousin Billy. But it's also a story about the huge
    mess the U.S. government left behind in Korea and Vietnam.
    Billy was twenty-three years old in May 1967 when he arrived in Korea and
    was assigned to the 2nd Infantry Division, a unit responsible for the
    far-western sector of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)
    manning forward guard posts within the DMZ and night foxholes just south of
    the DMZ.
    While the war in Vietnam was reaching its bloody crescendo, American
    soldiers in Korea 14 years after the Korean War ended were still in a
    combat situation. Theoretically, being stationed in Korea wasn't nearly as
    dangerous as Vietnam. It was no cakewalk, however. For the soldiers
    patrolling the DMZ, Korea remained a hot spot.
    Few journalists wrote about it, and the television networks weren't
    interested in the daily happenings along the DMZ. Few people on the home
    front, other than families of those stationed there, paid much attention.
                              Family background
    Cousin Billy and I were both named after my father's older brother Bill, a
    portrait artist who lived in Chicago and died just before World War
    II. Cousin Billy is from my father's side of the family and so after my
    parents divorced when I was ten, I lived with my mom and didn't see his
    side of the family very often.
    By the time he graduated from Adelphi University and shipped off to Korea,
    I had already been attending Kansas University in Lawrence, Kansas for 18
    months. While Billy patrolled the DMZ, I cruised the Gaslight café and the
    Rock Chalk. While he was up to his ass in mud in Korea, I marched in peace
    In the winter of 1971 I returned to New York from Kansas. Billy, back from
    Korea a few years, was recently divorced and living in an apartment on Long
    Island. He was working as an administrator with the Boy Scouts of America.
    We ran into each other at our Aunt Dorothy and Uncle Herman's 50th wedding
    anniversary party in early December and made plans to spend a long weekend
    together out on the Island during the holidays.
    At his apartment we smoked weed, ate lots of TV dinners and ice cream and
    got to know each other cousin-to-cousin. Billy loved being behind the
    wheel, so we drove to the tip of Long Island to a small fishing village and
    drank beer and watched the boats sail. We shoveled snow off the schoolyard
    basketball court in the neighborhood and shot hoops. One miserable snowy
    evening we went to a movie theater deep on Long Island and saw Sacco and
    Vanzetti, the biopic about two Italian immigrants wrongly convicted and
    executed in the 1920s. It was the Grand Opening of the theater and we were
    the only people there.
                              Digging in along the DMZ
    Recently, Cousin Billy described his daily routine in Korea: "My company...
    was filling foxholes from dusk to dawn each night. The compounds on which
    we lived were south of the Imjin River. Each evening we would eat dinner,
    test-fire weapons, load-up in armored personnel carriers and cross the
    Imjin River via Freedom Bridge, go down the 'Barrier' road, dismount and
    occupy the night positions."
    Before they settled in for the night, the company would string wires for
    field-phones, connecting each foxhole to the command post up the hill,
    behind the road. "The foxholes were forward of the road just south of the
    DMZ, separated from the DMZ by barbed wire," Billy said. "Most of it was
    old and rusted, a defensive system used for years, probably since the end
    of the Korean War.
    "I was an infantry officer in charge of a rifle platoon. As an officer
    along the Barrier at night working from an armored personnel carrier up the
    hill from the road and wired to the foxholes my job was to control the
    actions of my company in the foxholes. In the mornings, I would report to
    battalion operations and be de-briefed, along with any of the men in my
    company who may have fired a weapon during the night. There were firing
    incidents almost every night and Colonel Cloninger, the battalion
    commander, was unhappy with the lack of results, meaning no bodies."
    On July 16, one of the foxholes was overrun and three men kids,
    really Tommy Boyd, John Gibbs and Leonard Ashforth, were killed. Since he
    was off that night, Billy had the task of going through the men's personal
    effects and preparing them for shipment home. The rest of the company was
    out pursuing the North Korean attackers.
    The barrier Billy patrolled consisted of barbed wire strung south of the
    DMZ in an area thick with foliage. Shortly after he arrived in Korea, a
    defoliation project destroyed the underbrush, allowing for the construction
    of a chain link fence and the laying of minefields along with electronic
    sensory devices. As every few hundred yards were cleared and fencing went
    up, new foxholes were dug just behind the fence in the defoliated strip and
    the troops would then occupy them.
    "In August," Billy remembers, "we were relieved of Barrier duty and my
    company became the Division's Quick Reaction Force. We were the first unit
    called out in the DMZ when there was hostile action. Since I was the
    senior platoon leader, although I had only been there since May, I had the
    lead platoon. While the rest of the company was on fifteen-minute alert I
    was on five-minute alert so I slept with my uniform and boots on."
    On August 28, under attack from the North Koreans, an anti-tank mine
    detonated under Billy's vehicle. Conscious, he refused evacuation. He
    wasn't sent to the hospital and his parents weren't notified.
    By mid-November 1967 the defoliation project was complete. In the American
    sector, the sensors, minefields, fence and new foxholes were all in place.
    Now, Billy's job had him passing through the defoliated area on a regular
    basis. "Approximately every five or six weeks," he writes, "I walked the
    length of that strip, about four miles, twice a day for seven days.
    Sometimes, when it was icy, I slid down the hills of that strip on my butt."
                              Toxic nightmare
    59,000 gallons of three toxic chemicals "defoliated nearly 21,000 acres of
    the Korean DMZ. For vets of the 2nd and 7th Infantry divisions, the recent
    U.S. government acknowledgment is a major breakthrough," reported a
    February 2000 article in VFW Magazine. In addition to affecting U.S.
    forces, the Korean government maintains that, according to declassified
    U.S. Department of Defense documents, as many as 30,000 Korean soldiers may
    be suffering from illnesses related to coming "into contact with the deadly
    defoliant in the late 1960s and early 1970s."
    Getting the U.S. to admit that it used Agent Orange in Korea, let alone
    accept responsibility for the harm it may have caused its own soldiers, has
    been extremely difficult. According to VFW Magazine: "Previously, the U.S.
    government had said Agent Orange was used only in Vietnam. But a recent
    television report by the Seoul Broadcasting System quoted from the Defense
    Department documents [which admitted that] 'American troops stationed in
    South Korea spread more than 21,000 gallons of toxic defoliants along the
    border in 1968 and 1969.'
    "According to the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), service members
    who served along the Korean DMZ during the late 1960s and early 1970s are
    covered under the 1991 Agent Orange Act. For veterans who served elsewhere
    on the peninsula, eligibility for benefits will be determined on a
    case-by-case basis. Special legislation would have to be enacted for
    'blanket coverage,' VBA says." (For more on the use of Agent Orange in
    Korea, see www.kdvamerica.org/AOrange.html.)
             And in Vietnam...
    The widespread use of Agent Orange has caused a multigenerational toxic
    nightmare in Vietnam. In early March, the Associated Press reported "the
    first-ever Vietnamese-U.S. scientific conference on Agent Orange," as
    hundreds of researchers from the United States, Vietnam, and other
    countries met to look at what the U.S. ambassador called "the one
    significant ghost" remaining from the Vietnam War.
    According to the AP report, "from 1962 to 1971, the U.S. Air Force sprayed
    an estimated 11 million gallons of defoliants, mainly Agent Orange, over
    Vietnam to destroy jungle cover for Communist troops in a campaign known as
    Operation Ranch Hand."
    Not only have thousands of American veterans blamed a variety of illnesses
    (including birth defects, cancers and nervous disorders) on exposure to the
    defoliant, the Vietnamese government claims that about 1 million Vietnamese
    "are victims of Agent Orange, including veterans, civilians living in
    affected areas and their descendants. The U.S. government maintains there
    is no proven direct link between dioxin and many of those illnesses."
    Anne Sassaman of the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health
    Services said "the aim of the conference is to exchange information on the
    health and environmental effects of Agent Orange, ways to reduce exposure,
    and future research needs." Researchers also said "they will report on
    persistently high levels of cancer-causing dioxin in the blood of people
    living in heavily sprayed areas."
    In one of the keynote addresses, Prof. Hoang Dinh Cau of Vietnam's Ministry
    of Health said studies have shown the existence of "'hot spots' where
    children and grandchildren of people who were exposed to the defoliant
    exhibit serious congenital malformations." He said, "the chemical war has
    been over for a long time, but the burden it left on ecology and human
    health is so consistent and long."
    "While in Korea," Billy recalled, "Agent Orange never crossed my mind." He
    was more concerned with being attacked by the enemy "than a chemical about
    which I knew nothing at the time. There were moments that I thought death
    was imminent but I came home on June 22, 1968 and on the way home from the
    airport, in the back seat of my parents car, in the dark, I silently cried."
    Cousin Billy returned home and made a good life for his son and himself. In
    early January, some thirty years after serving in Korea, he went to a
    Veteran's Administration hospital for a complete physical. No problems were
    discovered. If he is suffering any long-term effects from being exposed to
    Agent Orange, it hasn't yet manifested itself. He jokes that the rapid
    decline of his jumpshot after Korea might have been caused by the
    chemical. Truth is, he never had much of a jumpshot to begin with.
    For the Vietnamese, the U.S.-imposed nightmare continues.
    Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His
    WorkingForChange column Conservative Watch documents the strategies,
    players, institutions, victories and defeats of the American Right.

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