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  Agent Orange

by: John Soliz - '68-'v69, 1st platoon medic


At each of the reunions I have attended, I have paid tribute to the black flag numbering the deaths of our fallen brothers. The sacrifices that Blackhorse has made, however, extend beyond the lives of those lost in battle. Now, thirty years later, having escaped the jungle and the enemy’s bullets, I am far from leaving it all behind. I may have made it home, but not without being exposed to the herbicide that is slowly debilitating many Vietnam veterans: Agent Orange. It is a persistent enemy that I fear some may soon forget.

For those of us who were there, Agent Orange is an impossibility to forget. It is the younger generation of soldiers that needs to know about its terrible effects. Fifty years from now I want the attendees of our Blackhorse Reunions to know that our sacrifices extended beyond the 716 troopers we lost during the Viet Nam War. The number does not accurately reflect how the survivors paid with their quality of life.

Young troopers need to know about the Atomic Veterans—who were knowingly exposed to ionizing radiation from atomic and nuclear weapons testing. In the fifties, these veterans were used as lab rats, exposed to atomic blasts in Nevada. It wasn’t until the early 1980s that the government finally admitted to a connection between the veterans’ various cancers and their subjection to government-sanctioned experiments in radiation. By this time, unfortunately, most of the vets have died.
There are some people that know about the toxins vets were exposed to during the Persian Gulf War. Like their predecessors, these veterans have a syndrome all their own. The government has yet to determine that a health problem amongst the Gulf War veterans exists. Someday they may determine causality but that day may come long after the veterans have expired.
After almost thirty years, Agent Orange is now recognized as a harmful herbicide that endangered the lives of many vets. There are over 300,000 veterans who are on “The Registry”, waiting in line for exams at the V.A., waiting for review boards to verify medical documentation. These veterans are waiting to be considered for compensation. Some have been compensated. Most, however, must endure the claims process and resolutions will most likely come when most of us have passed on.
Being ill due to my participation in the war upsets me. It is a great strain on my family. My greater pain, however, lies in the possibility that my grandchildren and future generations will be unaware of our true plight. If the future is ignorant of its past, then it will repeat its mistakes. The soldiers of tomorrow will become lab rats once again, continuing the cycle.

I have checked with other Viet Nam organizations and the 11th ACR organization seems to be making an effort in uncovering the effects of Agent Orange within its own unit. Why not prove we are the number one Association by being the first to analyze this problem more thoroughly. It is a means of expressing our respect and acknowledging the dedication we have all demonstrated. We must not let our future troopers forget the sacrifices that we made for the war.


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