Still paying price for Agent Orange

Published 9:30 pm Wednesday, January 25, 2017

By Ed Fancher

Agent Orange is a chemical that was used in Vietnam to defoliate the jungle, thus denying cover to Viet Cong guerillas. For helicopter combat air crewmen, Agent Orange made it somewhat easier for us to see this elusive enemy.

However, as we were to later find out, this defoliant contained one of the most virulent poisons known to man, a strain of dioxin called TCDD.

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Millions of gallons of Agent Orange soaked the southern half of South Vietnam. It killed the foliage, stripping much of the jungle bare.

Unfortunately, unsuspecting Vietnam combatants were at the same time breathing it without even knowing it.

Since that time, studies have shown the dioxins were dangerous to human health, leading to a variety of forms of cancer. Many of the cancers, such as respiratory and prostate cancer, took 20-30 years to develop.

Hundreds of thousands of U.S. veterans who served in Vietnam have complained of illnesses traced to exposure to Agent Orange. The list is growing and, not surprisingly, Vietnam veterans are passing away at an alarming rate. Of the 2,709,918 who served there, it is estimated that only about 850,000 are still alive.

Was the U.S. government aware of the possible health risks from spraying Agent Orange? I believe they were absolutely aware of it.

Vietnam was a war started by politicians, and it was fought to a standstill in the jungles, mountains and rice paddies by America’s youth. Then after 10 years of war, it ended.

However, the Democrat-controlled Congress at the time simply turned their backs on what they agreed to do after the pull out. It seems they were more concerned about their jobs than doing what they promised.

Not only was this a slap in the face to all combat veterans who fought there, but also it was a catalyst for years of torture and mass murder of South Vietnamese who were left to face the Communists from the North.

To put it a different way, the military won the battles, and the politicians lost the war. Eighty-two percent of combat veterans said Vietnam was lost due to the lack of political will.

So who were the winners in Vietnam? The private contractors who made the Agent Orange probably did pretty well, and no doubt there were some politicians who did pretty well, too. Sure seems like the veterans as usual got the short end of it.

Sound familiar?

I hope one day the American public will learn the whole truth about what really happened in Vietnam.

I pray to God that our new President Donald Trump will keep his pledge to take better care of the veterans, and also to keep looking for ways to combat this silent enemy called Agent Orange that so many of us took home with us and never knew it.

I believe he will.

A survivor of Agent Orange cancer myself, I am writing this article in memory of Joseph Sidney Taylor. He was my combat brother and trusted friend during some dangerous times in Vietnam.

I thank God I was able to visit Sid before the good Lord came and took him home. Sid had been diagnosed with cancer related to Agent Orange and passed away in his hometown of Harrisville, R.I., in 2005, one day before the birth of his first grandson.

I think of him often. He will not be forgotten.

Ed Fancher is a Suffolk resident and a Vietnam War veteran, having served from 1969 to 1972. Email him at