Gary Conkling Life Notes

Mostly whimsical reflections on life

Ghosts of Agent Orange

The maxim, “No good deed goes unpunished,” should be conjoined with a corollary, “Bad deeds are punished sooner or later.” Haunting image

Vietnamese children, whose grandparents were exposed to Agent Orange dropped during the Vietnam War, are being born with birth defects such as bulging eyes, elongated heads and missing limbs that resemble human mutations.

Vietnam-era military veterans, who also were exposed, now face higher incidences of some forms of cancer, neurological malfunction and respiratory disease. In the case of female military veterans, there are children born here who suffer cleft palates and congenital heart defects linked to Agent Orange.

All this delayed agony occurs largely out of sight. It isn’t the stuff of daily news coverage. It isn’t the stuff most of us want to hear about. The Vietnam War is in the past, better forgotten than remembered. It was a story of a military gone mad and now is better left in the shadows of the past.

A group of veterans has produced a documentary called Lighter than Orange showing the after-effects of this potent defoliant that denuded forests and left a dioxin poison pill in large swaths of Vietnamese soil and water – and the DNA of survivors. It will air Sunday, May 18, at Fifth Avenue Cinema, along with other films of particular interest to Vietnam-era veterans.

What’s fascinating to me is that I learned about Lighter than Orange and was reminded of our military use of Agent Orange by reading Street Roots, the newspaper published by homeless people to raise awareness of the issues they and the community face.

Military veterans make up part of the ranks of the homeless, so the story about the documentary and the inter-generational impact of Agent Orange holds strong appeal to its writers, editors and readers.

Staff writer Emily Green does an excellent job in a long journalism format of exposing the issue. I’m glad Street Roots, which features the tagline, “For those who cannot afford free speech,” published the story. My question is, will other publications give it the same attention? They should.

The world is afire today, rightfully, over the cowardly abduction of Nigerian schoolgirls by terrorists intent on sending a message about the role of women and girls in their imaginary world. These girls have been missing three weeks and may have been sold off into slavery or handed over to men in the bush as child brides.” The families of the girls and the rest of the world worries about the trauma inflicted on these girls and how it will affect the rest of their lives. agent-orange-victim

We can see the horror and feel the horrible consequences of something that close at hand. It is much harder to kindle the same passion for sins committed at another time, in another place – sins for which we bear some collective blame as a nation. Green’s story is aptly headlined, “Ghosts of Agent Orange.

These are the apparitions that should haunt us, much like Ebenezer Scrooge’s ghosts. Hopefully, also like Scrooge, we can learn from our ghosts so we seek redemption for our past ills.

3 comments on “Ghosts of Agent Orange

  1. Thomas Lucken
    June 1, 2014

    20 April 2014

    To: Commander, National Headquarters, Veterans of Foreign Wars

    Thru: Commander, Department of Illinois, Veterans of Foreign Wars
    Commander, District 12, Department of Illinois, Veterans of Foreign Wars

    Subject: Dioxin (Agent Orange) Long Term Residual Effects Korean DMZ

    Two months ago, I found out that I have Adult Diabetes Type 2, which is one of the many side effects of Dioxin exposure. I already knew many veterans who have served in Vietnam and Korea suffer from not just this side effect but many others. I have discussed with other veterans who have also served in Korea, in particular those who have also served up on the DMZ north of Freedom Bridge/Imjin-gak (River). Many of these veterans also suffer not only from Diabetes, but many of the other side effects of Dioxin exposure.

    Agent Orange was used in Korea from approximately 1968 to 1971. Those that served in Korea at that time are the only ones who are acknowledged to have had exposure to Dioxin. It does not cover those that were exposed afterward, where it resides in the dirt for many years to come. From 1971 to 1991 we still had Troops running patrols, manning Guard Posts, and Observation Posts in the American Sector (11 Mile Stretch) after the use of AO.

    Our final troops exited Vietnam by 1975 and they are covered in the Zone for Agent Orange. But, in Vietnam we did not naturally get a chance to see the effects of Dioxin exposure in the ground to those Veterans. In Korea, many of us believe we were exposed to it through the 70s and 80s due to aliments we now suffer from.

    The US Government/VA needs to look at supporting and caring for these Veterans who are suffering from the side effects caused by exposure to Agent Orange. The Government needs to determine and accept that Dioxins remained in the area/ground well after its use and not just during. We exposed these Troops to an unsafe environment and now they suffer from it in sickness/illnesses, and in some cases death. I believe you will find in most cases, it has taken several years for the illnesses to appear, quite similar to those who were exposed to Agent Orange when it was used in Vietnam.

    The Veterans of Foreign Wars membership rules changed several years ago, to allow those who have served in Korea since 1953 to become members of the VFW. Now as the VFW it is our mission to support these Troops that are affected, make it known that they are just as important as Veterans, as our other Veterans are that have served in combat zones! They too served a mission that was difficult on the DMZ, that was real, and sometimes was deadly. Serving on the Korean DMZ and running missions, were not training but a real world situation. These Troops lives were on the line constantly, under the threat of the north. Whether it was being shot at randomly, ambushed by roaming NK soldiers, avoiding minefields that were and are still in place! These Troops were and still are our fellow brothers who deserve to be given equal treatment for their service. A service that many never knew that really existed and/or accepted. Now we as members of the VFW need to see them given the recognition for a duty that was unforgiving, and make the rest of our members and all US Citizens aware of it. They are our brothers and should not be forgotten!

    From 1972 to 1991, approximately 50,000 troops have served in the American Sector of the DMZ, and that is a conservative number! For the VA to see an issue/trend here is very limited due to relatively small number of veterans who have served there. With DMZ veterans spread in 50 states, territories, working, living, and retired overseas, and in some cases have passed on, it is hard to see that there is a trend/issue. That is why I ask the Veterans of Foreign Wars to stand up and help these veterans who need it now and never have been recognized for their efforts and their sickness from exposure to Agent Orange.

    Last, just for the record. Not only am I currently active with my VFW Post here, but I am a Past Commander of Freedom Bridge Memorial Post 9985, Tongduchon, Republic of Korea.

    My info is: 831 W Jefferson, Vandalia, IL 62471; phone: 618-204-8391; email:

    Thomas J. Lucken
    Senior Vice Commander
    VFW Post 9770
    Brownstown, IL

  2. Thomas Lucken
    June 1, 2014

    1 May 2014

    To: Commander, National Headquarters, Veterans of Foreign Wars

    Thru: Commander, Department of Illinois, Veterans of Foreign Wars
    Commander, District 12, Department of Illinois, Veterans of Foreign Wars

    Subject: Dioxin (Agent Orange) Long Term Residual Effects Korean DMZ (Continuation Letter)

    This is to add to my previous letter I sent on April 20, 2014.

    My son John H. Lucken, who is a member of VFW Post 9770, suffers from Spinal Bifida, a birth defect from those who were exposed to Agent Orange and it’s Dioxins. A birth defect that is define by the VA.

    John was born on July 17, 1989 at 121st Evac Hospital, Yongsan, Korea. John’s mother is Korean from the north part of the ROK. Her name is Mun, Yong-Cha!

    John’s spinal bifida is on record with the VA besides dealing with PTSD from Afghanistan 2009. Would I know that my service would come back to haunt him even more, then me!

    My info is: 831 W Jefferson, Vandalia, IL 62471; phone: 618-204-8391; email:

    Thomas J. Lucken
    Senior Vice Commander
    VFW Post 9770
    Brownstown, IL

  3. Thomas Lucken
    June 9, 2014

    Do you not what to tackle this one?

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