My father, who passed away on March 11th, 1998, was a Vietnam veteran who suffered from undiagnosed post traumatic stress disorder. He was drafted into the army and served at Long Binh 1968-1969. He started out as a fork lift operator and became the company armorer. We are unsure when exactly my father was exposed to AO but shortly after returning from Vietnam he developed hypertension. When he was 38, he had emergency heart bypass surgery. He went on to develop diabetes, have a stroke, then at age 50 he had a massive heart attack and died. He was a larger then life personality that was extinguished by agent orange.
In 1972, I was born two months premature and weighed only 3 lbs and 4 ounces. I was born without my right leg below the knee, several of my fingers and my big toe on my left foot. My parents struggled to make sense of what caused so many issues in their daughter. My mother had two miscarriages before me and one between my brother and me. My brother John, was born without birth defects. I guess I am a fighter because I am here today to tell my story and to help others who have been effected by AO.
My parents became activist in the late 70‘s early 80‘s. They worked hard to get the word out about agent orange. They were the founding members of Agent Orange International in Ohio. The group started in Steubenville, OH, but moved later to Canton, Ohio because there were more Vietnam veterans and their families there. After the Agent Orange lawsuit was settled the group lost steam and disbanded. I still wonder today what happened to the families we met. I was young but still remember meeting other children of vets who were even at that time struggling with many health problems.
Dad putting flags on military graves in Union Cemetery (Steubenville, Ohio) on Memorial Day. This is the very cemetery where he is buried.
My father continued trying to help veterans who had health needs. He served at least three times, as Commander of the Steubenville, Ohio, Chapter of the Disabled American Veterans. He also served as the chapter’s service officer. He and his buddy Don Kranek, worked to help veterans in need get to the V.A. hospital, file claims, and help get the word out about Veterans and their suffering. All the while, Dad, still a steelworker and Local 1190 union member, and grievance committeeman, was dying slowly of heart disease caused by agent orange.
Dad talking to the Media in Steubenville, Ohio during a Steel Mill Strike
Through Masako Sakata, a widow of an American Vietnam vet, I had the opportunity to travel to Vietnam this past October to meet AO victims there. My trip was filmed for a documentary called Agent Orange; a Quest of the Second Generation. It is set to be released later this year. The victims I met in Vietnam were mostly children, who like the American children, are innocent. The trip was eye opening to me. I will admit, for a very long time I was curious and wanted to meet the victims of agent orange in Vietnam but I was also of the mentality " take care of Americans and forget the Vietnamese." After all, our Vets are still suffering, we (American offspring) have not been recognized as AO victims, and it was war. That was until I saw the mass devastation of the AO legacy in Vietnam. More specifically, the third generation of infants in Tu Du hospital in Ho Chi Minh City, the pre-teens at Friendship Village in Hanoi, and the many private homes of second generation victims. I came to realize this struggle is not for this side, or that side, it is for the entire human race. This includes, Aussies, New Zealand Vets, Koreans, folks from Canada, Guam, Laos, Vietnam, and many un-named places where AO was tested or used or stored. My eyes were opened.
My hand and a Vietnamese 12 yr old orphan's hand, Peace village, Vietnam
I 100% believe our American Veterans need better services, faster due process, and recognition. I believe anyone who served during the Vietnam war stateside or other, that handled equipment that came back from Vietnam, anyone that helped transport AO, load AO, etc. should be presumed exposed, period.
As for the offspring of Vietnam veterans, we have been given a very difficult road to walk in life. Our fathers are dying or have died. Many of us grew up with the ravages of post traumatic stress disorder in our family units. Some of us have had parents who divorced, some of us have dealt with alcoholic or drug addicted parents, or disabled siblings . To top this off, many of us were born with our own birth defects, serious birth defects, that have no known origin. Some of us have developed serious diseases, and no one will listen to us. Our plight is complicated, but we carry it as gracefully as we can because we have no other choice.
The only choice for us at this time is to start standing up for ourselves the best we can. We have to start fighting because, our mothers, while strong, cannot carry this battle for us forever. They are tired. Their lives have been filled with a bittersweet love. They have been fighting since AO came into their lives, into their spouse, and into their children. The adult children of Vietnam veterans who are healthy enough must stand up and be heard. Nobody, as much as they try, can do this for us. We as a generation, need to rally together, not only for ourselves, but for the others around the world who suffer because of the decision to spray AO. Let's not simply look inward, but let us look to be inclusive of all the innocent victims. Let's set an example for the world to follow. I would love to see a world where when people think of kids with birth defects or illnesses linked to AO they do not automatically think about just Vietnam. Instead, they also think about the kids in America who not only fight for themselves, but for all innocent victims of agent orange.
Heather A. Bowser, L.P.C.C.
Second Generation Victim of Agent Orangehttp://www.agentorangespeaker.com/Heather@agentorangespeaker.com