ROBERTSON COUNTY TENNESSEE: (Smokey Barn News) – Most of us know of a Veteran who has received a Purple Heart. It is our nation’s expression of gratitude to the brave soldiers who have suffered an injury or made the ultimate sacrifice in service to our country. The 29th of March, last week, was remembered as Vietnam Veterans Day. When I meet with Veterans in our community, memories of that war are painful. Our nation suffered the loss of over 58,000 American soldiers. The mission of the war was to avoid the spread of communism but it did not appear to be a just cause in the minds of many citizens. Because of the strong anti-war sentiment in the country, our soldiers, who were forced to serve under the draft, did not receive the respect and gratitude that these brave men and women deserved.
Beyond the personal and emotional sacrifices during that war, certain long-lasting effects of the injuries suffered continue to linger to this day. Among these are the effects of exposure to Agent Orange.
Agent Orange is an herbicide and defoliant chemical. It was widely used in Vietnam, by the U.S. military, as part of the herbicidal warfare program called ‘Operation Ranch Hand’ from 1961 to 1971. This orange powder was sprayed, over the land, from helicopters or low-flying aircraft. It destroyed vegetation and crops. The goal was to destroy crops, defoliate rural and forested land and deprive enemy guerrillas of food and cover for their activities. It allowed clearing of sensitive areas around military bases. United States military sprayed nearly 20,000,000 gallons of Agent Orange during this time.
In addition to the damaging environmental effects, this chemical has caused major physical injury to the 2.6 million Americans who were exposed. Only 800,000 are still alive.
Agent Orange is a dioxin. It is a cancer-causing chemical that enters the body through physical contact or ingestion. Dioxin moves into the human cell nucleus where it attacks the genes and causes a number of serious illnesses. These include leukemia, lymphoma, myeloma, Ischemic heart disease, soft tissue sarcoma, amyloidosis, diabetes and cancers of throat, prostate, lung, colon and certain other conditions. The genetic damage, from Agent Orange, in some cases, has affected the next generations among those who were exposed. Conditions such as spina bifida and other abnormalities in their children and grandchildren have occurred.
Sadly, the victims of Agent Orange have not received the honors that they deserve. With 300 deaths occurring every day among them, they continue their march to join their fallen comrades whose names are on the Wall in the Vietnam Memorial, Yet, their names will not be engraved on that Wall. These men and women will not be remembered as fatalities of the Vietnam War, even though they truly are.
Ken Gamble, of Springfield TN, a Vietnam Veteran and a victim of Agent Orange, has worked to honor these fellow victims. It is his dream to offer an Orange Heart Medal to all who were exposed to Agent Orange. He believes that the Orange Heart Medal serves as a memory of the chemical warfare exposure suffered by these soldiers. It also allows that memory to live as the Orange Heart Medal will be passed on to the generations to come.
I am grateful to Ken and his fellow Veterans for their service to our country. A remarkable fact about these Veteran soldiers is that when they left the military service, they did not stop serving. Instead, they have created a caring community of Veterans that continue to serve those in need. Thank you Ken. Thank you Veterans. God Bless!