If I had known I was taking my children to war, I would have dodged the draft - Bill Morris*
Part of my time last week was spent sending emails to my fellow Vietnam veterans. Essentially, no matter where we served there, we were very likely exposed to Agent Orange, an extremely toxic herbicide that is the equivalent of today's poisonous Roundup on steroids. I was in the Mekong Delta, an area that was sprayed often, a fact that was not revealed to me when I was there 53 years ago. I traveled widely in jeeps and helicopters to towns and villages within the dozen or so provinces, (from Saigon to the Ca Mau Peninsula) that made up the delta area. Can Tho, My Tho, Sa Dec, Soc Trang, Rach Gia, Bac Lieu, Ben Tre, Vinh Long, Vung Tau, Ca Mau, Long Xuyen…lots of stops, and I breathed deeply, of what I'll never know. That information is not in any AAA travel guide.
So when I received an article from Current Affairs on Agent Orange, entitled Deny Until We Die, it grabbed my attention immediately:
“I [author Mickey Butts] discovered the emerging field of epigenetics, which explains how a father’s environmental exposure to toxic chemicals, not just a mother’s, can be transmitted to his children’s genes without ever changing the DNA sequence, with harmful effects to the body flicking on and off like a light switch, altering a host of bodily processes and functions.”
Butts goes on to say:
“Many Vietnam vets and their children tell strikingly similar stories. Everything was fine with the kids conceived before Vietnam. But the children conceived afterward were plagued with unusual health conditions that previously did not exist in their families. A private group run by COVVHA [Children Of Vietnam Veterans Health Alliance] has more than 5,000 members on Facebook. Many COVVHA members have reported mysterious birth defects, autoimmune diseases, cancers, fertility issues, and chronic ailments. A common way many people join the group is with a post cataloguing their family’s suffering that ends with something to the effect of 'Am I alone?' ”
Last November, I traveled to the East Coast to attend the burial of a friend of over 50 years who also served in Vietnam. He died of throat cancer, caused by Agent Orange. [See Veterans Day 2021 - The Wars End But Casualties Continue To Mount] So far his two adult daughters seem to be fine. However, I furnished them with information gleaned after reading the Current Affairs piece. Another friend of 55 years, on a 20% disability after being diagnosed with bladder cancer a few years after his return from Vietnam, was thankful that I provided him the information to pass on to his four sons, one of whom is, himself, an Army officer. Another long-time friend from my university days, who was also in Vietnam as an advisor to the Vietnamese military, died over a decade ago, an untimely death at 65 from throat cancer. He had no children, so any epigenetic effects died with him. I have no children so any downstream effects will also end with my passing.
The beat goes on, as witnessed by those attending the Second International Conference of Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin. Two second-generation victims, Heather Bowser** and a Vietnamese boy, are pictured at right while attending the conference in Hanoi over a decade ago. The toll over the last decade is likely unknowable, given that many who were contaminated with Agent Orange don't know that they were, and even if they do know, they likely aren't sufficiently aware of the hereditary effects to pass a warning to their children.
Awareness is the key. Some useful links can be found below. Do not hesitate to send links to this article to your friends and family members who may have fought as soldiers or worked civilian jobs in Vietnam. Their children and most likely their grandchildren are at risk.
*Bill Morris, served in the Vietnam War from 1968 to 1969. He is the father of Heather Bowser.
**Heather is the daughter of a deceased Vietnam Veteran, Bill Morris, who served in the United States Army in Vietnam from 1968-1969. Heather was born two months premature with multiple birth defects. She is a founder of Children of Vietnam Veterans Health Alliance [COVVHA], an advocacy group for the offspring of Vietnam Veterans.