Inspiration To All Our War Heros, This One Is For You!
Weeping Willow: Agent Orange:
“Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take,
but by the moments that take our breath away.” – Unknown
It was starry, starry night in September 1969, when Terry flew into San Diego after serving three years in Vietnam. A crowded beach house became the venue for an entire neighborhood to congregate to welcome him back. It was a time of good cheer, abundant food and unmeasured appreciation for a returning hero.
When Lia first saw Terry through the half open door, she was pleasantly surprised to see a rather spirited, well built GI adapt so quickly to all the chaos and paraphernalia. Terry had just turned twenty-three and Lia was one of the many eligible singles invited for the occasion. There were so many of them darting to and fro and oddly enough in circles too, that Lia didn’t think Terry would notice her rather shy, demure stature. The celebrations continued into the wee hours of the morning, and although Lia recalled making eye contact with him on more than one occasion, they didn’t even exchange so much as a ‘hello’ all night.
A week went by before Lia saw Terry again. It was at the corner soda shop where he was chatting with a group of frivolous, giggly girls. It was Lia’s twenty-fourth birthday and was meeting her best friend Misty for a quiet celebration.
When Lia first walked in the crowd seemed to only get louder. She noticed Terry shift his posture so as to lean back against the counter. Once more there eyes met, only this time there was no telling how long they were enwrapt in a manifold of ecstasy. It was too long to be awkward, too short to be fulfilled. Their emotions had struck a chord and neither of them were about to give up on it!
The laughter and festivity of the crowd faded softly into the background, and for that one dire long moment, they were the only two people alive, or so they felt. Lia could not feel her feet on the floor, even though they had ached all morning from working at the local bottling factory. Terry had this unique, big swash-buckling smile, she so well remembered from the first glimpse she got of him. It came on so strong that she could feel herself blushing. He walked over to her and with a firm strong hold swept her off the floor.
“Weren’t you at my homecoming party?” he said, still holding her like a trophy for all to see. “We never did get introduced, remember?”
Of course she remembered, how could she forget, there were so many female deity lurking his every move, it would have been insane trying to get an intro.
“I’m Lia” she announced as he lowered her gently to the floor. “You were so preoccupied with all your buddies, it was impossible to get an intro.” There was an intensity in her voice that even took her a stride back!
Lia felt a tap on her shoulder and turned around quickly to find Misty shuffling with her face as if in apology for being late or something.
“Happy Birthday!” Misty said, throwing her slender arms around Lia. Once entangled from each others’ embrace, Misty jostled a tidy package into Lia’s arms. “That’s for you, sweet thing” she continued with joyous bout.
“Oh thank you Misty.” she fumbled back as she turned towards Terry, “this is my friend Misty.”
Terry almost totally ignored the introduction, and instead grabbed a faded flower from the vase on the counter and thrust it between Lia’s hands.
“Happy birthday Lia,” he said as he serpentined towards her placing a warm kiss on her lips. “I’ll get you a real gift later.” he continued in hushed tones as he bit into her earlobe. A sensual current meandered it’s course all the way down her spinal chord. A sensation she had never quite experienced before, like an upsurge, it quickly engulfed her whole being. What supervened will always be her treasure of extrasensory perception of paradise.
They were two young lovers living on a quasar. Chivalrous, devoted and true to all their emotions. When they made love on the warm sand, there was a passion so intense, so arousing, so pure. To her mind they were making love in the Elysian fields.
“I’m on fire, Lia, this kind of heat has got to come from heaven!” Terry whispered in her ear.
Why of course she thought in her mind, it couldn’t get any better. This has got to be heaven. neither of the lovers wanted the serenity and joy to end, they wanted it to go on forever.
Figuratively speaking, to all the young lovers out there, who ever and where ever you are, this happens only one moment in time, one dire instant. And as such, give it your all, stay faithfully devoted, it’s a piece of terrestrial.
Six months later, with just a handful of their closest friends, Lia’s step dad and Terry’s sister, Mariah, they got married in a tiny Chapel by the bay. The new couple moved to a quaint little cottage some hundred miles from San Diego, spending their first year together in harmony and sunny bliss.
It was late in October, the leaves of red and gold had begun to slither down the cobbled street.
‘Could anything be more beautiful’ was an abstraction Lia recalled. Terry had caught a cold, which tout-de-suite turned into the flu.
By Christmas, Terry’s condition had become incorrigible. They visited more doctors and nursing homes in the preceding two months than most people do in a life time. Terry’s illness was a mystery, and no one had a cure. Time became the essence and they were running out.
It wasn’t until late June that they finally got a break. A doctor had just completed a number of tests on Terry and requested that they both come to his office. The news he shared with them was shocking and threatening. Terry was diagnosed with a rare form of abdominal cancer.
With no family history of such an illness, it was hard to assimilate how this could be feasible. Terry spent a week at home before going to the hospital for treatment. It was the lowest of times for the young couple. Lia recalls thinking, ‘I don’t know how to respond to Terry’s delicate disposition.’ She knew he was hurting, and the future didn’t look good.
It rained everyday for two weeks after Terry checked into Mercy Hospital. While in hospital, Terry began an investigative research into the archives of his family history, hoping to find an answer to his puzzling illness. Unfortunately, nothing showed up there. Since he neither smoked or drank, it narrowed his analysis greatly. Terry never gave up his quest and continued to trace circumstances leading to his sudden virulent cancer.
The morning of July 25th, Lia received a call from the hospital. Terry had made an astonishing discovery and wanted to tell her about it as quickly as possible. Lia worked her way into an old pair of jeans and sweat shirt, not wanting to lose a fleeting moment of time. Her car had stalled on her the night before just a block away form the house. With money running low, she could not get it fixed, so she opt for public transport, which on any other day would be fine, but this day she was in a hurry to meet with Terry so every stop the bus made, created a sigh of anguish within her cerebrum, yes, totally helpless.
Lia walked into Terry’s room. He was propped up against a clump of pillows. He looked alert and positive, a good sign for Lia. Terry related to Lia in perfect sequence, exactly how he had precociously developed the Hodgkin’s disease. His findings quite overwhelmed her as he recalled his service as a GI in the Vietnam war.
It was in Bien Hoa, South Vietnam, where US ground soldiers engaged in combat in the Central Highlands. Terry continued in pitable detail how just overhead of these soldiers, approximately a hundred and fifty feet above the trees, Operation Ranch Hand implemented US transport planes. The planes maneuvered in patterns similar to those one would make when mowing a lawn, spraying Agent Orange. The chemical was a combination of 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T used as a defoliant on the land beneath until a predetermined area was thoroughly covered. The purpose of this operation was to deny the enemy any cover or concealment in the dense jungle-like terrain of S.E. Asia, by defoliating trees and shrubbery where the enemy could hide.
Agent Orange was the code name used to mark the drums it was stored in. The empty drums of AO were often used by the troops for storing food supplies and as barbecue pits. Some of the more innovative troops implemented the residue laden drums for shower purposes.
Agent Orange was later found to be extremely contaminated with TCDD or dioxin. TCDD is not found in nature, but instead is man- made from unwanted by-products of the chemical manufacturing process.
Terry remembered sitting along the hillside waiting for nightfall while cooking his C-rations. Soon after defoliating came the ‘mist’, like floating clouds pulling out of the back of the C123s, soaking the soldiers, their clothes and rations. During these drills the troops in his unit often suffered from nausea and diarrhea.
Terry did not pare down his hostility as he persevered with clear amanuensis the tragic role of the pilots who flew under Operation Ranch Hand. He recalled with clear picture how they became so experienced at their missions that they would take only minutes after reaching target area to dump their thousand gallon loads of AO.
Even though Lia had not been there to reminisce in the tragedy, it was a melancholy moment they shared.
Terry contemplated working through areas that appeared to have been bombed with such intensity, yet they never discovered any bomb craters. Oddly enough, such devastating air strikes failed to turn the jungle into a crazy quilt of water filled pockets. It was a riddle the soldiers would leave behind as they pressed forward into more battle fields, filling their canteens with water from pools and streams infected with the herbicide, a dioxin linked with chemical acne, non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease and Sarcoma.
Excited in an outlandish way by his brain wave discovery, Terry got in touch with all the other troops who had served in his unit. Not surprisingly, all of them had suffered from massive skin discoloration, splitting head aches, numbness and were easily fatigued. Some GIs had chloracne on their necks and shoulders.
Terry did not waste anytime trying to convince the US Government of his findings.
However, without health insurance, their medical bills were becoming impossible to pay. Terry tried several times to get veteran’s medical comp. from the government, whom inspite of his extraordinary detection, refused to acknowledge Terry’s theory. Unable to meet their hospital costs, Terry was released from mercy Hospital on August 9th, 1976.
Terry by now had become too weak to take up his cause any more. Lia became her husband’s spokesperson. Soon more and more vets joined forces. Symptoms, that were now showing up in birth defects of their newborns too. They felt so alone, so cheated by their government.
If one were to walk into his bantam room, you would see a frail, fatigued, rapidly aging man Terry, in the last hours of his very young life. His skin was massively discolored. Chloacne covered most of his neck and shoulders. Enlarged lymph nodes had spread from node to node paralyzing part of his arms that once fought with courage to defend our nation.
Terry lay there silent; next to his bed a rusty garbage bin stood. It had to be emptied so often from his sickness that lining it with plastic bags was no longer a consideration: just an unnecessary commodity to a dying man. Terry was shivering uncontrollably. The malignant tumor was effecting bone, cartilage and blood vessels rapidly.
“Hang on there mate” Lia said half smiling, half soulful.
“I can’t, ” he answered, “my body can’t fight off anymore.”
“You’ve fought the good fight Terry,” Lia uttered in despair, “I promise it will bare abundant fruit. I will go on for you, my love.”
“I will be there too,'” Terry replied, as he pressed her hand against his cheek, “I well be there too, in spirit.”
When Lia looked down into Terry’s eyes that day, she was prompted to ask him in what turned out to be their last conversation, “What is the one thing you want the world to know from your tragic experience, Terry?”
Terry smiled his last smile as he whispered in her ear, “And the winner is……”
Lia understood what he meant. There really are no winners. Wars don’t make winners, they don’t create loosers either. Just dejected devastation all around.
Terry’s eyes looked heavy, yet he kept them open while slowly slipping away into a coma.
Terry passed away that night with no glory or dignity, but he paved the way for the millions of other Vietnam Vets who like him, were exposed to Agent Orange. The Vietnam war was the underworld which continues to plague it’s players to this very day.
A poignant paradox, one of many that pervade this bitter conflict, is that AO began in a moment of great promise, an exciting technological break through that went so terribly wrong. The conflict that continues to stalk and claim it’s victims decades after the last shots were fired.
The Agent Orange case is a farrago of stories, each true from some payoff point, each false from another and all incomplete and inevitably misleading. It is so debauched it defies belief.
The never ending legacy of the war in Vietnam has created among many veterans and their families deep feelings of mistrust of the US Government for it’s lack of honesty and it’s conscious effort to cover up information.
Lia’s son was born two months, one week and four days after Terry passed away. Joyfully, his son was born well.