An Essay by Richard D. Hartwell
Project Agent Orange
The first time I was ever thanked for my military service by anyone outside family was in 1985, by a co-worker. This was eighteen years after I returned from Vietnam. The next time was in 2012 when I was in tears in front of the “Moving Wall,” the traveling replica of the Vietnam Memorial, and a fellow veteran, a docent, rolled up in his wheelchair, patted me on the back, and told me, “It’s okay; you’re home now!”
I don’t share this lightly and I don’t want to confuse issues: Memorial Day is a day of remembrance for those who did not “make it back.” Veterans’ Day is in honor of all America’s veterans, past and present. Well, I remember throughout the year those friends I lost and I feel nothing but support and concern for our military members.
But between these two commemorative days, not in space or time, but in meaning and emotion, we are missing acknowledgment of those whose lives have been too early lost or adversely affected by the effects of Agent Orange and its kin. Not just our military members and families but those Vietnamese lives lost and maimed by the effects of all the chemicals used during the American War.
I realize that with the establishment of the Order of the Silver Rose came acknowledgment of the extreme sacrifice of our service members who have died as a result of the deleterious effects of Agent Orange. In no way do I denigrate this award. However, there is little recognition outside the Department of Veterans Affairs for the ongoing suffering of American service members due to the ravages of Agent Orange and little to none for the hereditary defects passed on to veterans’ progeny. Oh! – and none at all for the Vietnamese military, north or south, and civilians and their generations of birth defects linked to Agent Orange.
I do not and would not advocate setting aside a day to commemorate these losses on both sides of the Pacific due to Agent Orange. Such deaths and “wounds” are equally the result of the war waged in the jungles, plains, rivers, blue waters, and air above Vietnam. They should be remembered and commemorated as such; remembered not as collateral damage but as the wages of war.
On this Veterans’ Day, and every Veterans’ Day and Memorial Day as well, remember and celebrate the lives of ALL the victims of war; regardless of country, politics, generation, or the nature of the death or “wounds” received.
Project Agent Orange
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