Veteran Visits Vietnam to Meet Agent Orange Victims
By Mike Marceau
In April I went back to Vietnam with nine other veterans. I am a disabled veteran and I had always wanted to see parts of the country I didn’t see as a soldier. The trip was organized by the San Francisco chapter of Veterans For Peace. I am Vice President of the Washington, D.C. chapter. We went to learn how Agent Orange affects victims and what is being done for them. We met local Vietnamese groups who are working with victims in areas of education, job training, and healthcare. It was a real eye-opening experience for all of us, and we are determined to tell the rest of America what we found.
In the 1960s the U.S. sprayed more than 20 million gallons of Agent Orange on South Vietnam. This affected more than 25 percent of the country, mainly the central highlands and the western areas. Agent Orange gets into the ecosystem and remains for decades. Today we are seeing the third generation of victims.
Agent Orange affects people in various ways. The obvious signs are physical deformities: twisted hands and feet, withered arms and legs, baseball sized tumors growing on heads, bulging eyes, and heads that seem too big for the bodies. Many victims also suffer blindness, deafness, and muteness. Often there are severe mental problems, too. Many of these situations require 24-hour care. This means a parent must quit her job or a sibling needs to give up her chances for higher education. It is a huge challenge for everyone involved.
In Hanoi we met the Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin. They have groups throughout the country. We visited a center which cares for school-aged victims. Those who are capable attend regular schools, while those with mental challenges are taught embroidery and sewing. They make beautiful tapestries which they sell to help support their families.
In Da Nang we visited a facility which has day care for 40 students. There is a large garden to grow vegetables which are served with lunch. They are also raising chickens and pigs. The plan is to sell them to raise money to help keep the center going.
In Saigon we visited Tu Do Hospital. There are about 60 children here. The older ones care for and mentor the younger ones. They have formed their own community where they don’t see themselves as different from anyone else. It is very comforting to realize that there are others exactly like them. Some of the former residents have graduated from college and are working and living on their own. They are role models for the current patients.
On our travels in Vietnam we visited about a dozen victims’ families in their homes. These were quite difficult for most of us. Vietnam is a very poor country and the government can only contribute about $40 a month to these families.
To learn more about Agent Orange or to make a donation visit: www.vn-agentorange.org. This is a project of Veterans For Peace.
Marceau operated a communications switchboard in the war. He was injured May 6, 1970, and medically retired in 1971. Three million Vietnamese suffer the effects of chemical defoliants used by the U.S. during the war, according to Veterans For Peace.
For more photos from Mike’s trip click here: