After I had left the Vietnam War in March of 1969, President Nixon pledged to “end the war and win peace” on June 8, 1969. The result of his actions brought twenty-five thousand soldiers home, still leaving troop strength at 484,000 that year. Many of the 509,000 troops in Vietnam at that time of the war were waiting anxiously to hear if their unit would be one of those selected and removed from the godforsaken battlefields of Vietnam. Would they be saved or would they continue fighting an elusive enemy that never, ever quit fighting, regardless of how bad their losses were? An enemy that had become battle-hardened because of long, bloody wars before us with the French, the Mongols, and Chinese. All of them were defeated eventually. Yes, even the Mongol hordes of Kublai Khan were beaten back to their Mongolian homeland by the tenacious Vietnamese.
None of us at ground level in the Nam actually knew what or why they were always spraying stuff over there. Someone said it was for mosquitoes. Why would we think otherwise? Of course, we weren’t issued protective masks as we were during some training sessions back in the States, and many of us grunts lived in the same clothing for weeks or months while in the bush. The only thing we could cover our faces with was a filthy, bacteria-drenched towel. In some ways, our enemy lived better in their underground tunnels than we did. At least they had change of clothing down in their filthy holes and a ceiling over their heads. What a depressing thought that is. No wonder so many Vietnam War veterans rarely talked about their war and most just wanted to be left alone to try to live a normal life but… the memories of the Nam would continue to haunt many of us painfully and forever. This is where I find myself today.
American soldiers had no way of knowing what they had been exposed to when low-flying C-123 aircraft flew over and sprayed deadly poisons over triple-canopy jungles, mangrove forests, and civilian-farmed rice paddy fields, the main source of food. They had no idea that what was being done around them would affect them and infect them long after they had physically left Vietnam behind them. Living like Neanderthals, they had survived a hundred sleepless nights, dozens of firefights, and ambushes day and night. Many had been wounded and saw death and destruction, leaving the scars of war and poisons with them for the remainder of their lives physically and psychologically.
They were told over there and back here that the skin rashes from their faces to their feet, and everywhere in between, was simply something called jungle rot. There is nothing simple-sounding about jungle ROT! I have personally had recurring outbreaks of jungle ROT from the day it appeared on my body in April 1968 to this day…forty-eight years later!
Our leaders told us that by killing the trees and thick jungles, calling it deforestation, the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese soldiers would lose their hiding places, being driven to fight in the open, where our superior firepower would destroy them, and the war would end very quickly.
They said that some herbicide spraying would shorten the war and save American lives. This game plan was hardly flawless. We presumed it was just Roundup they were spraying, as none of us had ever heard of Agent Orange at the time. They told us that our skin rashes, headaches, dizziness, and upset stomachs were just the natural results of “combat stress.” If the mission was to kill trees, they succeeded. However, inside most of the spraying areas that we walked through, we also found dead birds, monkeys, reptiles, rats, and dead fish floating on the surface of streams and the rotting, nauseating smells that death and bacteria bring. We had to live with this discomfort twenty-four/seven while the heads of everything enjoyed many of the same comforts that could be had at home in America.
My book Condemned Property? not only stimulated and impacted Vietnam War and Vietnam Era veterans, which I prayed for; it also generated an unexpected response from our non-veteran patriotic Americans. This surprised me, but I was very happy about it. That book opened and reopened many minds that had been undoubtedly closed for decades, about what Vietnam War veterans suffered during and after that horrible war.
Less than two weeks after Condemned Property? went public in late November 2013, I was rocked by an earthquake-like event. They called this life-altering health disaster several titles…cerebral vascular attack, cerebral infarction, brain stroke, or just plain stroke. However, there was nothing plain or ordinary about this potentially life-threatening blow, and several permanent, crippling disabilities were left for me and others around me to deal with.
I was told the Vietnam War could accept the blame for this unfortunate ambush on my health system. Vietnam War, combat stress or PTSD, and Agent Orange-linked type 2 diabetes were all tagged with the potential causes. Secondary conditions from a severe stroke of this magnitude can leave its victim with a multitude of ugly health impairments, some temporary and some permanently devastating. I was left with some of both, including a disastrous vision impairment. As time would go on, some of the aftershocks of the stroke would change or worsen, leaving an inevitable diminishment in quality of life for me and others close to me. I feared there was something else coming down the road.
While some of the second- and third-person oral histories I used from personal interviews may not be 100 percent accurate, I guarantee that the semi-fictional bits of information entered in order to complete the message should not disappoint even the most critical reader. Invaluable information will abound in this book, factual and semi-factual. I hope that you the reader will gain a greater understanding and appreciation of the struggles required of Vietnamese to live in peace from the many unwanted invaders throughout the history of the last 2,000 years.