Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Agent Orange...Our Common Enemy

Another deeply meaningful day today along our Journey of the Heart....a day so rich that words and blogspots can not describe.....a day of warmth, welcome, forgiveness and gratitude.

Our task was to deliver to VAVA ( Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange), the generous donations from Bruce's buddies in the 4th Battalion, 23rd Infantry, as well as some of his own hard earned sailing income.

After much tea and ceremony and paper work at the VAVA office we hopped on the backs of motorbikes to go with Phuong our lovely young contact at the association and Mr. Tinh another VAVA employee. Back in the saddle and whizzing through the country side, Elaine felt very secure behind Phuong on her specially adapted three wheel vehicle. Phoung had polio as a young child and is mobility impaired. Bruce trusted life and limb to Mr. Tinh, a former Viet Cong soldier, whose mangled jaw tells the story of his meeting a 105 milimeter artillery fragment head on.

The families to whom we presented the funds were so dear and thrilled that "forgeiners" would come to their small and simple homes. We met a couple in their late seventies, he a soldier for 50 years and suffering from diabetes, his wife suffering a difficult skin condition. His Army uniform, bedecked with medals, hangs proudly in a clear plastic bag over his bed. This couple lives together in a single 10X15 foot room, with a vile latrine down the hall, in a Vietanamese Red Cross home.  During his long military service, he fought the French, the Americans and the South Vietnamese Army. He described being "rained on" in the jungle of Kontum Province with Agent Orange. He openly blamed his infertility and his wife's lesions on the dioxon. He was effusive in his greetings and gratitude, repeatedly shaking both our hands, slapping our backs and presenting the praying hands peace sign. We do not know if he has been awarded a pension for his long service in the military, but because they have no children they are reliant on the Red Cross for their small quarters. Amazingly, they have a small patio garden where Ba grows medicinal plants to treat her skin.

We met another couple in their sixties with their severely disabled daughter, their only child. Both the father and mother had served as Viet Cong soldiers in the mountains to the west of Hoi An.   Only the father suffers symptoms from AO exposure but their daughter is profoundly disabled. Her twisted limbs and retardation are exacerbated by brain tumors one recently removed in a hospital in Da Nang, the surgery paid for by VAVA. 

We visited only four families out of the 1,000 known sufferers from Dioxin in the Hoi An area. But the funds that we delivered will assist 20 Agent Orange families for several months in their daily struggle against grinding poverty, debilitating illnesses and harsh living conditions. Bruce is proud of the handful of US veterans who "stood to" to help alleviate the lingering suffering from "our" war.
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