NEAL GOSWAMI, BENNINGTON BANNER, OCTOBER 2, 2OO6
Vietnam veteran John Miner stands next to a plaque dedicated to victims of Agent Orange in front of the Bennington Town Office on Sunday. Photo by Neal Goswami
BENNINGTON — Millions of veterans of the Vietnam War were exposed to Agent Orange between 1962 and 1971, and on Sunday local veterans braved the steady rain to remember the veterans who died as a result.
About 20 Members of local Vietnam Veterans Chapter 601 and the public gathered in front of the Bennington town office to dedicate a plaque to their fallen fellow soldiers. Chapter president John Miner said the group began planning for the plaque about six months ago. The group met with several times Bennington Town Manager Stuart A. Hurd, who offered the town office lawn as a place for the plaque.
The black granite plaque reads, “In memory of the men and women who served in the Vietnam War and later died as a result of Agent Orange Dioxins. We honor and remember their Sacrifice.”
The plaque is meant to draw attention to the alarming number of veterans affected by chemicals used by the military, despite not knowing exactly how many people suffer, said Miner.
In the dark
“Technically there are no (statistics) because the government doesn’t want us to know. But we know there are many, because we are part of it. … A lot of us are living and suffering from Agent Orange now,” he said.
Miner is trying to make sure that veterans know that they are being supported and that there are ways to get help.
“They have to know that they’re not alone. It’s not something that’s going to go away until we all go away. It’s something that’s in our system from exposure in the 1960s,” he said.
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, about 20 million gallons of herbicides, including Dioxin containing Agent Orange, were used in Vietnam between 1962 and 1971 to remove unwanted plant life and leaves that provided cover for enemy forces during the Vietnam War.
Following their military service in Vietnam, veterans began reporting a variety of health problems and concerns which many of them attributed to exposure to Agent Orange or other herbicides.
The name, “Agent Orange,” originated from the orange stripe on the 55-gallon drums in which it was stored. Other herbicides, including Agent Purple, Agent White, and Agent Blue, were also used in Vietnam, but to a much lesser extent.
The Department of Veterans Affairs says it has developed a comprehensive program to respond to these medical problems and concerns.
The principal elements of this program include quality health care services, disability compensation for veterans with service-connected illnesses, scientific research and outreach and education.
Local resident Sue Cook, a founding member of the local chapter, lost her husband, Capt. Theodore J. Cook Jr., 18 years ago when he died of complications from exposure to Agent Orange. She said her husband was exposed when he served three tours of duty between 1967 and 1969.
Her mission is to make sure that similar mistakes never happen again.
“I hope that Dioxin will never be used again. I also hope that men exposed can get help. The V.A. has recognized many diseases cause by Agent Orange, and the diseases can be helped,” she said.
Gov. James Douglas sent a letter commending the group for their efforts to remember and honor the soldiers that have given their lives.
“It is my hope that as Bennington residents – and many others – pass this monument, that they will stop and pause to remember our veterans in their thoughts, and be grateful for their service,” he wrote.