Agent Orange Awareness Day

August 10th is Agent Orange Awareness Day. It marks the day that the defoliant was first used in the Republic of South Vietnam in 1961. The day is meant to pay tribute to those who were exposed to Agent Orange and is a reminder of its lasting impact on many of those who served in Vietnam.

This one is personal to me. My father was medically retired from the Army in April 1972 and died almost exactly nine years later at age 62. He had served as the First Sergeant of an Army Engineers’ road building company in 1970-1971 stationed north-west of Saigon. Undoubtedly, they had sprayed Agent Orange at some period of time. Among the ailments which caused his medical retirement were both a stroke and heart issues. I don’t mean to put all the blame on Agent Orange as he was a heavy smoker but ischemic heart disease has been directly traced to it.

In 1972 he nor we knew much about the relationship between his probably exposure to Agent Orange and the disabling ailments he suffered. Likewise, when he died in 1981 it was just beginning to be understood. President Jimmy Carter had signed off on a Department of Veteran Affairs’ study only two year previously. It was not until 1991 that Congress passed the Agent Orange Act.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has recently added hypertension to the list of disabling ailments directly related to Agent Orange exposure. This is in addition to multiple types of cancer and other illnesses.

There is still much research to be done and other diseases to be added to the list. For example, I had a friend and client who died in early 2021 from pancreatic cancer. He had served in DaNang with the Air Force in 1968. His job was loading ordnance and Agent Orange on the various aircraft. His protective gear was a T-shirt. The VA still didn’t recognize his pancreatic cancer as being related to his direct exposure to Agent Orange which is a shame.

The use of Agent Orange officially ended in 1971. It is still impacting a generation of now older Americans. I hesitate to guess of its impact on Vietnamese civilians living in those same areas.

Just as there are areas of northeast France which are still no-go areas due to unexploded shells from World War One, the impact of the use of Agent Orange is still being felt almost 50 years since the Vietnam War came to a close.

Black April Redux

I bought the book Black April: The Fall of South Vietnam, 1973-1975 back in 2012. Given my father served two tours of duty in South Vietnam and I know many veterans from that war, that period has always been of historical interest to me.

I’m not sure if I finished reading Black April or not but I definitely need to go back and re-read it. That is especially true when I see photos like these.

US Embassy, Saigon, 1975, CBS News
US Embassy, Kabul, 2021, AP Photo/Rahmet Gul

Currently, I’m reading Valley of Decision: The Siege of Khe Sanh. I’m reading it because of the parallels between fight for Khe Sanh and the fight for the Korengal Valley including the Korengal Valley Outpost. They both involved mountain-top outposts that many US troops died to defend which the top brass decided to eventually just abandon. My best friend’s son served as the company XO for the next to last company (Viper Company, 1-26 INF, 3 BCT, 1 ID) to occupy the Korengal Valley and wrote about it in this article for Foreign Policy. John eventually transitioned to the Maryland National Guard where he serves as a LTC in a Information Operations unit.

National Vietnam War Veterans Day

March 29th has been set aside as a day we honor those who served in the Vietnam War. It was established in 2017 with the passage of the Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Act. The day is to recognize and commemorate the sacrifices made by those who served in Vietnam as well as that of their families.

My father, an Army lifer, served two tours of duty in Vietnam. His first tour of duty was in Cam Ranh Bay with the 544th Engineer Detachment October 1967 until October 1968. According to an Army history of the Engineers in Vietnam, this was only two years after they first arrived in Cam Ranh Bay. And yes, he was there for the Tet Offensive. Fortunately, it was not hit as hard as many other places in South Vietnam.

His second tour of duty in Vietnam was with the 554th Engineer Battalion where he served as the Construction Operations Sergeant and then as First Sergeant for Co. A. This was from April 1970 until April 1971. He was first in Lai Khe and then later the entire battalion moved into the southern highlands building road QL-20.

My dad was 52 when he left Vietnam the second time. A year later he would be given a medical retirement due to a whole host of medical problems including a TIA or mini-stroke. Whether it was due to exposure to Agent Orange or due to heavy smoking will never be known. He died from COPD 9 years later almost to the day of his medical retirement. If he were still alive, he would turn 101 in a few days from now.

In my mind’s eye, the Vietnam vet is the slightly older guy in college. In reality, they are today’s grandfathers and great-grandfathers. The last two men killed in the war – Cpl Charles McMahon and LCpl Darwin Judge – were born in 1953 and 1956 respectively. They were embassy security Marines killed in a rocket attack a day before the fall of Saigon. Judge, the younger of the two, would now be 64. That is probably the bottom end of the age cohort of Vietnam vets. Most are in the late 60s, 70s, and 80s.

Picture Of The Day

Today marks the 44th anniversary of the Fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975. The poignant picture below shows the evacuation of Americans and South Vietnamese staff from the roof top of the US Embassy in Saigon.


Newsweek had this on the scale of the airlift:

It was the biggest helicopter lift of its kind in history—an 18-hour operation that carried 1,373 Americans and 5,595 Vietnamese to safety. Yet in sheer numbers, the feat was overshadowed by the incredible impromptu flight of perhaps another 65,000 South Vietnamese. In fishing boats and barges, homemade rafts and sampans, they sailed by the thousands out to sea, hoping to make it to the 40 U.S. warships beckoning on the horizon. Many were taken aboard the American vessels, while others joined a convoy of 27 South Vietnamese Navy ships that limped slowly—without adequate food or water—toward an uncertain welcome in the Philippine Islands. Hundreds of South Vietnamese also fled by military plane and helicopter, landing at airfields in Thailand or ditching their craft alongside American ships.

My father who was drafted into the US Army in December 1940 for “the Hawaiian Department” was to serve two tours of duty in South Vietnam. His first tour was in Cam Rahn Bay from October 1967 until October 1968 and then again from April 1970 until the end of March 1971 in Lai Khe an Bao Loc. He was thus in Vietnam for two of the more momentous events of the war – the Tet Offensive and the Cambodian Invasion.

Thank You, Sen. Tom Cotton

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Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) called out Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and his lies about service in Vietnam. As I have mentioned more than once on this blog, my father was both a WWII and Vietnam veteran.

He was drafted in October 1940 before WWII, served in the Caribbean Defense Command during the war, married my mom in 1945, and got his GED and college degree after he was discharged. He rejoined the Army in 1953 and served continuously from then until his medical retirement in 1973 caused by a transient ischemic attack and the beginnings of COPD. Along the way, he went to Vietnam in 1967-68 and again in 1970-71.

I hate politicians like Blumenthal who have lied about their service and I always will. Cotton, by the way, was a Harvard Law grad and practicing attorney when he applied for Officer Candidate School. He could have gone JAG but went Infantry and has his Combat Infantryman Badge. I respect that.

What Would Be A Suitable Punishment For These Vandals?

Punji sticks?

Tiger pits?

How about this:  they have to go and meet with the families of those missing in action who have suffered for up to 50 years not knowing what happened to their fathers, husbands, brothers, and sons and explain just what the hell they were thinking when they “tagged” that memorial. I doubt they will be able to truly justify their actions.

If they have any feelings, if they are sentient beings, they should feel profound shame at their actions. Perhaps this will get their lives turned into something productive.

I was lucky. My father came home from the Republic of Vietnam. Twice. Though he wasn’t in combat, his name could have been up on that wall or the one in Washington, DC. As I said, I was lucky unlike the families of those men listed on that wall in Venice, California.

Off To Houston Plus Two Items

I’ll be leaving to catch my flight to Houston in a few minutes. Blogging may be sporadic for the next two days as I’ll be spending time with family in Texas. Expect it to resume full force during the NRA Annual Meeting and thereafter.

A couple of items before I leave.

First, Sebastian reports that the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has turned down the NRA’s appeal in NRA v. BATFE. He has a good preliminary analysis of the opinion. This is the case that challenged the Gun Control Act of 1968’s restriction on sales of handguns to those between 18 and 21 years of age.

Second, today is the 38th anniversary of the fall of Saigon to the North Vietnamese communists. Mike Vanderboegh posted a very soul-searching remembrance of the event a couple of days ago. As Mike would be the first to point out, he used to be a left-wing radical. When I say “left-wing”, I don’t mean a brie and Chablis liberal – think really hardcore.

If you want to read a good book on that last month of the Vietnam War, I’d suggest Black April by George J. Veith.

The defeat of South Vietnam was arguably America’s worst foreign policy disaster of the 20th Century. Yet a complete understanding of the endgame—from the 27 January 1973 signing of the Paris Peace Accords to South Vietnam’s surrender on 30 April 1975—has eluded us.

Black April addresses that deficit. A culmination of exhaustive research in three distinct areas: primary source documents from American archives, North Vietnamese publications containing primary and secondary source material, and dozens of articles and numerous interviews with key South Vietnamese participants, this book represents one of the largest Vietnamese translation projects ever accomplished, including almost one hundred rarely or never seen before North Vietnamese unit histories, battle studies, and memoirs. Most important, to celebrate the 30th Anniversary of South Vietnam’s conquest, the leaders in Hanoi released several compendiums of formerly highly classified cables and memorandum between the Politburo and its military commanders in the south. This treasure trove of primary source materials provides the most complete insight into North Vietnamese decision-making ever complied. While South Vietnamese deliberations remain less clear, enough material exists to provide a decent overview.

Ultimately, whatever errors occurred on the American and South Vietnamese side, the simple fact remains that the country was conquered by a North Vietnamese military invasion despite written pledges by Hanoi’s leadership against such action. Hanoi’s momentous choice to destroy the Paris Peace Accords and militarily end the war sent a generation of South Vietnamese into exile, and exacerbated a societal trauma in America over our long Vietnam involvement that reverberates to this day. How that transpired deserves deeper scrutiny.

Ho Chi Minh Trail

Any student of the Vietnam War knows about the Ho Chi Minh Trail. It was the series of roads, bridges, and supply dumps through which the North Vietnamese Army transported men and supplies from the North to South Vietnam. The majority of the Trail ran through Laos and Cambodia.

Thanks to a link posted on the CRFFL List (aka Cruffler List) I came across a site called Laos GPS Map. It had an extensive photo blog on what the Ho Chi Minh Trail looks like today. I found it extremely interesting and well worth 15 minutes of your time if you have any interest in the history of the Vietnam War.

The Laotian villagers have become quite adept at using the metal scrap found for other purposes. In the picture below they are making a knife from steel remnants found along the Trail.

The author of the site sells a GPS map of Laos that works with Garmin GPS units. It includes unusual places of interest such as old NVA and Pathet Lao SAM sites. I dare say you won’t find those on most GPS maps! It also has the more mundane stuff such as Buddhist temples and the like.