The Vietnam Project – Color me Orange

By Sarason D. Liebler | May 12, 2012

A couple of weeks ago Ashton Reynolds, a 15-year-old friend, grounds keeper, hunting rights manager and “jack of all trades” and I were chatting and he mentioned that his sister Mercedes was studying the herbicide Agent Orange as part of a class project in Mount View High School. Shaking his head grimly he asked if I knew about all the horrible things it did to soldiers and Vietnamese civilians during the Vietnam War. I listened and then asked him if he knew that none of the myriad stories about the horrors of Agent Orange had ever been proven. He looked at me as if I had lost my mind.

Shortly after he went home the phone rang and Tammy, Ashton’s and Mercedes’ mother and local “Wonder Woman,” in her normal accusatory tone, barked, “Did you tell Ashton there was no Agent Orange?” After explaining that perhaps Ashton had gotten the message wrong, or that perhaps she had not fully listened to the message. I then suggested that she might have Mercedes call me.

Shortly after,  another call. Ashton, who also acts as PR and booking agent for his older sisters, wanted to confirm that I had been “in Vietnam.” I told him that I was in the Navy in what is defined as the “Vietnam era” but had never come close to its shores, or “in country” as the military defined it.

One thing led to another and soon I had agreed to become part of Mercedes and her project partners presentation. Why did I do it?

My fear was that some teacher of the Waldo county ilk, who had come up here in what they now call the “back to the land” movement but, back then, what others referred to as the “hippie” movement, was engaging in what I would call "brain washing."

Mercedes, now a high school senior is a tall, trim, attractive and formidable young lady who is a “high honors” student and was a star scorer on the field hockey team at Mt. View. I do not know her as well as Ashton but while I saw confidence in her manner and carriage. I knew that in her academic work she was healthily apprehensive and wanted to get things right.

I went over, first with her and then in her class, what I knew, trying to put the Vietnam War in perspective as I saw it from the age of 75, as a 10-year Navy veteran serving as both an enlisted man and then as a commissioned officer after graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1961.

I put together a short Power Point presentation containing rooted out, hard to find scientific papers and references on the internet — not only from Wikipedia. On the net it is safe to say that nine of 10 relevant references talk about the Agent Orange horrors. However, they are virtually all deduced commentary without supporting scientific scaffolding.

I attempted, in a 20 minute presentation, not to prove that Agent Orange was a safe beverage (though it is reported that some fools actually drank the stuff with no apparent harm), but to put the war in perspective with other conflicts and how the whole issue became politicized.

I pointed out that Vietnam was a nasty mess with over 58,000 names now etched on the Memorial Wall in Washington, DC. I compared it to the combined 6,400 and rising, number of fatal causalities of Iraq and Afghanistan and to the Battle of Antietam in the Civil War when there were about 25,000 casualties including over 9,000 dead in a one day battle.

I allowed that Vietnam was a very unpopular war, dependent on the draft as opposed to our present all volunteer military. I explained that the political pressure placed upon the Veterans Administration led the VA to make the decision that for a veteran to receive care and disability support for Agent Orange was presumptive, without demonstrative proof, to all that had served “in country.” This was massively important as the VA requires virtually all other “service connected” claims to be fully substantiated. (Disclosure, I am VA rated 100 percent service connected disabled.)

On the appointed day at Mt. View, instead of walking into what I thought might be akin to a Viet Cong ambush in a spot where Agent Orange may not have cleared the shrubbery. However I could not have been more wrong about the purpose of the project.

I found myself in a room of eager and attentive young folks who listened, absorbed and reacted. I have seen student comments on my presentation, in addition to general approval of my purpose one noted that I was “cute” and another said that she, “loved the old guy, he was smart.” I have made sure that my wife has seen the comments.

The dynamic teacher, who I understand has run the program for many years, to the chagrin of some of the school administration, is Ms. Tanya Hubbard , a 37 year teaching veteran and well known community benefactor, who is retiring this year. A large loss to future students.

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Comments (1)
Posted by: Ken Rhoads | May 19, 2012 10:59

Thanks for sharing this interesting experience. I'm a Nam vet who used to sub at Mount View.... you "did good".



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