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Agent Orange talk prompts memories, emotion

3/16/2014

By RANDY GONZALES

By RANDY GONZALES

rgonzales@dailynews.net

In a soft, halting voice, Katherine Glaser told of how she watched her father die when she was young. She told of how she has had myriad medical problems. She's 29 years old. She believes Agent Orange is to blame.

"My dad served in Vietnam; I slowly watched him deteriorate. It destroyed my life. I'm trying so hard to pick myself up," Glaser said, before tears overcame her.

Glaser was one of almost two dozen Vietnam veterans, wives and children who shared their stories of how they believe Agent Orange affected their lives.

"I think that we should be taken care of," Glaser, Hays, said after Friday night's town hall meeting at the Memorial Union on the campus of Fort Hays State University. "We didn't do anything wrong, love our country, and all we want to do is get help.

"I just want to live a normal life and be OK. I just want to be OK."

More than 100 people were at the town hall meeting for Vietnam veterans to discuss Agent Orange. So many people showed up, extra chairs had to be brought in. Healthy veterans gave up their seats and stood so others could sit.

"I'm totally amazed; I'm happy; I'm pleased," said Larry MacIntire, Natoma, who organized the meeting, sponsored by Vietnam Veterans of America. "I hope we got the word out. I'll reiterate by saying if I can help out one guy here tonight, it was worth it."

According to a report from the National Organization on Disability, between 1961 and 1972, the United States military sprayed approximately 20 million gallons of dioxin-contaminated herbicides over 6 million acres in Vietnam. Among the herbicides used was a compound known as Agent Orange, named for the orange stripe on the barrels it was shipped in.

Part of the military's herbicidal warfare program, defoliants used as part of Operation Ranch Hand destroyed crops, trees and bushes used by the enemy.

"In the course of this, hundreds of thousands of U.S. service personnel and millions of Vietnamese were exposed to the chemical in the air, water and soil, and through food raised on contaminated farms," the report said.

Three VVA members from Wisconsin were at Friday's town hall, as well as claims representatives. The VVA wants to get as many Vietnam veterans as possible in a database detailing their health problems.

"Trying to get a database set up not just for vets, but for children, grandchildren," MacIntire said.

"For children and grandchildren that are suffering things now, we're trying to get claims in, so we get proof," MacIntire said.

Those gathered were told having more health information collected about veterans and their family members will help prove the case of Agent Orange linkage when filing claims with the Veterans Administration.

"The VA says there is no basis putting in these claims, because we can't prove that it's causing any of these illnesses," MacIntire said.

John Margowski, now retired and former national veterans benefits chairman for VVA, told those assembled not to shoulder the burden on themselves.

"What you have to understand tonight is, none of this is your fault," he said. "Veterans beat themselves up enough for all the wrong reasons, but what we're going to talk about tonight is not your fault."

John Achatz, and his wife, Bonnie, traveled from Lyons for the meeting. He served in the Navy in Vietnam with the Seabees. He remembers Agent Orange all too well.

"We got drenched, like buckets of water throwed on us," said Achatz, who was wearing a Vietnam veterans cap and walked with the assistance of a cane. "We ate, lived in the stuff."

Achatz started experiencing health problems in 2002, including diabetes and quadruple heart bypass surgery.

"The thing to do is get with your (claims) representatives," he said. "You'll probably get turned down. You need to keep appealing and appealing. Keep going after it. You'll get it, finally."

Then there was the 18-year-old who "inherited" becoming a squad leader in Vietnam. On Friday, his hand shook -- not from being nervous, but from illness -- while holding the microphone as he told his story.

"I blame myself for this," he said, sharing the medical problems his children and grandchildren have experienced.

"Where I served in Vietnam was one of the more heavily sprayed areas, in 1969 and '70," he continued, speaking softly with his deep voice as the audience grew quiet.

"Men, and women, hang in there," he said. "Let's not go down like this. I'm 64 years old. I want to keep fighting for you, and for this country, and for my family.

"And, I love you."

The audience broke out into applause for the man, who looked old beyond his years, wearing his Vietnam veterans cap, head bowed.

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For more information, contact MacIntire at (785) 580-5373, or John Pyle, veterans' service representative for the Kansas Commission of Veterans Affairs, by email at vsr002@media-net.net or call (785) 625-8532.