Silent Spring: Deadly Autumn of the Vietnam War by Patrick Hogan

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In Silent Spring: Deadly Autumn of the Vietnam War (Whatnot Enterprises, 216 pp., $12.95, paper; $3.99, Kindle) Patrick Hogan is the best, most fact-filled current book about Agent Orange that this reviewer has encountered. Departing from some previous AO offerings that little more than chronicle the woes and health challenges of the authors—along with a litany of beefs with health-care providers, primarily the VA—Hogan goes many steps further in this second edition of his book. We reviewed the first edition on these pages in December of 2018.

Hogan does lay out the health experiences that brought him to the writing desk, but not seeking pity or sympathy. He then moves quickly into explaining the military operations that sprayed million of gallons of herbicides, insecticides, defoliants, and other generally bad stuff on the Vietnamese countryside, as well as on U.S. bases and other installations, and troops in the field.

Hogan, a life member of Vietnam Veterans of America, was motivated to dig into his subject after watching a presidential speech, and having a good buddy die of complications of Agent Orange exposure—as well as his desire to learn the details of how the spraying began and continued. He describes tactical, economic, ethical, and political decisions made on the battlefield, in the halls of Congress, and in industrial boardrooms.

And he takes us on a chemical excursion in which he spells out the main ingredients—both active and inert—that comprised Agent Orange, Agent White, and the other toxic chemicals used in the Vietnam War. Hogan also describes delivery systems and methods and compares wartime military concentrations of these toxic chemicals with peacetime commercial, agricultural, and homeowners formulations.  He also covers the laxity of handling and storage protocols.

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Hogan in country during his Sept. ’66-June ’69 tour of duty

As the result of his prodigious research into recently declassified documents—many apparently strategically and widely misfiled—Hogan finds (and wrestles with) decisions that seemingly were made with little with no regard for their health consequences. Seemingly without rancor—but certainly with exasperation and incredulity—Hogan includes evidence that the government and chemical manufactures had a cover-up mentality that pervaded our wartime leadership.

He also chronicles the VA’s past actions—and inactions—in dealing with the medical claims submitted by service personnel exposed to AO and other chemicals. And he details the progress being made, including what to expect from the VA in the future with respect to Agent Orange compensation,

All in all, this is a well-researched and executed book. It is well worth reading by anyone who was exposed to Agent Orange.

The book’s website is silent-spring-deadly-autumn.com

–Tom Werzyn

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Memoirs of a Rotor Head by Patrick Michael Ramsey

A justifiable bitterness pervades Patrick Michael Ramsey’s Memoirs of a Rotor Head (Mennonite Press, 152 pp. $31.01, paper; $3.99, Kindle). In 1970-72, Ramsey flew back-to-back Vietnam War tours as a UH-1 pilot. He survived everything the enemy threw at him, but also saw close friends get killed. Now he is dying from cancer caused by exposure to Agent Orange and other highly toxic defoliants. And he feels betrayed.

With the draft breathing down his neck, Ramsey enlisted in the Army late in 1967, and was inducted on January 8, 1968. “First and foremost,” he says, “I am an America serviceman” who has “flown in harm’s way to protect the freedom of Americans.”

The first half of his memoir shows how Ramsey prepared for, and then participated in, the Vietnam War.  Amid a climate of hyperactivity bordering on chaos, Pat Ramsey joined the 7th Air Cavalry at the beginning of the 1970 incursion into Cambodia.

With only thirty hours of combat flying, Ramsey was upgraded from copilot to pilot. Simultaneously, he took charge of crew assignments. Furthermore, because he went through infantry AIT, Ramsey was assigned command of a twenty-man platoon and helicoptered into the field as a grunt. To my disappointment, he provides few facts in his book about that responsibility beyond expressing his joy in hearing “that wop-wop-wop of the rotor blades” of helicopters en route to extract his unit.

His view of the war reflects nervous dedication to tasks that were questionable from their beginning. He admits to living for the excitement of facing danger, but an excitement tempered by near disasters. His stories gave me the impression that his unit operated with minimal leadership. The men seemed to do whatever they thought necessary at any moment. Losses were the consequence.

Ramsey complements stories about his experiences by giving history lessons about the war. In them, he summarizes Vietnamese history and America’s role in it.

Displeased with the paperwork mentality of a peacetime Army, Pat Ramsey ended his military career as a captain in 1973. From there, he sold insurance, married, divorced, raised a daughter as a single parent, and for five days a month flew CH-54 Sky Crane helicopters for the National Guard.

After twenty years, with pension money in his pocket and a daughter off to college, he resumed his search for adventure and became a medevac pilot for Life Star. Six years of “from fully asleep to fully alert in thirty seconds,” as he puts it, was enough, so Ramsey enrolled at Kansas State and earned a second bachelor’s degree in three semesters. He then joined the Peace Corps in Nicaragua. He later worked as a National Park Service Ranger in six parks in twelve years—all of which he describes in travelogue-like language in the book’s second half.

In 2007 doctors told Ramsey he had Parkinson’s Disease, “for which there is no cure, only death,” as he puts it. Three years later, the VA conceded that his problem was the result of exposure to Agent Orange. In his memoir, Ramsey calls for accountability by the manufacturers of defoliants that were used in Vietnam.

Five pages titled “Everything I Ever Needed to Know in Life, I Learned as a Helicopter Crewman in Vietnam” summarize his war experiences and close Memoirs of a Rotor Head on a note of gallows humor.

Ramsey is donating all profits from the book’s sale to a veterans service organization.

—Henry Zeybel

Silent Spring – Deadly Autumn of the Vietnam War by Patrick Hogan

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Silent Spring – Deadly Autumn of the Vietnam War (Whatnot Enterprises, 216 pp. $12.83, paper; $3.99, Kindle) by Patrick Hogan indicts and convicts the United States government and Department of Veteran Affairs for miscalculations and denials about the indiscriminate spraying of Agent Orange and other toxic chemicals as weapons during the Vietnam War.

The spraying was intended to prevent the enemy from using forests as refuge and crop growing areas. The prolonged and intense spraying operation, though, shortened lives and threatened the health of future offspring of everyone in the country.

Hogan’s concern primarily focuses on the plight of Americans who served in Vietnam, as well as their children and grandchildren, all of whom should read this book. Hogan also mentions international liability, which suggests reparations for the Vietnamese.

In a manner similar to that with which American officials denied the existence of post-traumatic stress disorder, Hogan makes a case that government tactics have centered on the idea of “Delay, deny, wait till they die” with veterans who developed cellular and genetic diseases from exposure to toxic chemicals in Vietnam.

The portion of his research devoted to an analysis of the herbicides and insecticides resembles a textbook. He introduces the reader to  2,4-D and  2,4,5-T as part of a “short list of the most prevalent toxic organic chemicals.” Hogan’s classroom-like approach should not intimidate readers because he also provides detailed examples of the criminally improper uses of the chemicals, such as the Seveso Incident and the Times Beach Relocation Project.

Similarly, he speaks of ailments caused by chemicals as casually as introducing an old friend. They range from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) to “cholecystitis—with subsequent cholecystectomy.

The last half of the book provides a courtroom of sorts for Hogan to plead his case against American leaders’ misuse of chemicals. In it, he argues the pros and cons of their decisions regarding programs such as Operation Ranch Hand and other spraying ops for defoliation or insecticide purposes.

He portrays the dangerous, far-ranging effects of using a mist-drift tactic for delivering chemicals. He cites lessons learned based on official reports. He explains improperly performed, intentionally skewed, and knowingly bogus research that “proved” that the chemicals were safe. He reveals government cover-ups that still exist. He describes how the chemicals of choice would have been less toxic to humans if Dow Corporation and other chemical manufacturers had been less greedy.

In summary, Hogan says that the failure of our government and the VA to take appropriate action is politically expedient and much less costly. He labels the inaction as betrayal.

Hogan knows whereof he speaks. His personal trouble began with “an angry rash” on his face a few months after his discharge from the Army, he says. An enlistee at eighteen, he had served with the 423rd Supply Company at Cam Rahn Bay from September 1966 to June 1969.

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Hogan, right, about to leave Vietnam in 1969

Soon after, indigestion and respiratory problems bedeviled him. He treated their symptoms with over-the-counter medicines, all the while suspecting that exposure to Agent Orange caused his health problems. Hogan was on his own, however, because the VA denied any toxic effects from Agent Orange.

From 1970-99, abdominal and digestive tract problems caused him to endure many surgeries. In 1999, Patrick Hogan took early retirement following a long law enforcement career, but his medical problems persisted.

In 2012, “a barrier broke in his mind,” he says. Memories of years of VA refusals to provide medical care and an Army friend’s early death from leukemia triggered him to write Silent Spring – Deadly Autumn of the Vietnam War. The depth of his research is highly commendable.

History needs more writers like Patrick Hogan—a guy off the streets who won’t take it anymore and acts on his feelings.

His website is silent-spring-deadly-autumn.com

—Henry Zeybel

From Enemies to Partners by Le Ke Son and Charles R. Bailey

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A look back at the chemical abuse that the United States perpetrated against the population and topography of Vietnam during the American war dictates a look forward about the enduring effects of that action. Defoliation of the countryside by the use of Agent Orange/dioxin and other toxins took place between 1961 and 1970; its effects are still apparent fifty years and several generations later.

Making amends for the use of Agent Orange has been difficult. Le Ke Son and Charles R. Bailey promote this effort in From Enemies to Partners: Vietnam, the U.S. and Agent Orange (G. Anton, 242 pp. $29.99, hardcover; $19.99, paper; $9.99, Kindle). Son and Bailey have collaborated on this problem since 2006. Son holds a PhD in toxicology; Bailey has a PhD in agricultural economics. Both men have worked with agencies such as the Red Cross and Ford Foundation on correcting the damages inflicted by Agent Orange.

From 1975-2006, Agent Orange was “an extremely sensitive and controversial subject,” the authors write. “Official views were polarized, information was scant, disagreement was rife and suspicions on both sides ran high.” They counter this situation by assembling enough data to make Agent Orange a discuss-able topic. The book highlights the contributions of people and organizations that have helped to compensate for Agent Orange’s misuse.

The thoroughness with which Son and Bailey examine the Agent Orange/dioxin situation  is spellbinding. They have assembled a wealth of data that arguably amounts to more information on the topic than may be found in any other single publication.

They open their argument with a province-by-province review, complete with charts and studies, that shows—among other things—that dioxin still exists in Vietnam. They then examine dioxin’s impact on people and the ecology. There also are charts, tables, and studies to promote awareness among Americans and Vietnamese about the problem and the needs of victims. The book ends with a summation of bilateral efforts to date and proposals for the future.

The magnitude of future problems relates to locales, expenses, and people. American bases at Da Nang, Bien Hoa, and Phu Cat were Agent Orange’s most toxic areas. Da Nang has been cleansed of poison. The cost of remediating Bien Hoa is estimated at $375-$500 million and will take a decade, the authors say. Meanwhile, several hundred thousand young Vietnamese with birth defects linked to AO exposure passed on through their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents await help, according to the authors.

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Son and Bailey argue for continued collaboration between the United States and Vietnam and urge greater funding by Americans to finish tasks such as sanitizing the Bien Hoa Air Base.

A raft of color photographs pays tribute to people who have supported the cause. An appendix cites the Ford Foundation and seventy-eight of its grant recipients. Another appendix—”Fifty-Five Years of Agent Orange: Timeline of Key Statements, Decisions and Events 1961-2016″—provides an excellent twenty-four-page summation of the book’s theme.

—Henry Zeybel

Gold in the Coffins by Dominic Certo and Len Harac

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Dominic Certo’s highly praised first novel, The Valor of Francesco D’Amini, was published in 1979. So it has been a long wait for his next one, Gold in the Coffins (Harmita Press, 268 pp., $28.95, hardcover; $18.95, paper; $6.99, Kindle).

Certo served with the 7th Marines in Vietnam.  Co-author Len Harac is “a frequent participant in military-style tactical training programs.”

A terse blurb on the back cover accurately sums up this well-written thriller. “Gold in the Coffins follows the story of a tight band of retired Marines who bonded during a bloody tour of duty in Vietnam, only to find themselves facing a darker enemy back home, the demons of Wall Street.”

The hero, Donnie DeAngelo, enters into a “diabolical venture” with a Wall Street power broker who plans to force DeAngelo into bankruptcy and then loot his company and leave him and his friends with nothing. This world of IPOs and reverse mergers is a mystery to me, but the authors handle the ins and outs of it deftly, making it seem as evil as I always suspected it was.

This system was the one that Donnie and his buddies thought they had fought to protect, but they find that it isn’t set up to protect them. It is mentioned more than once that these Marines did not get heroic welcomes when they returned home. Mention is also made of “all the Napalm, Tear Gas, Agent Orange and explosives” they were exposed to and the possibility that they might have wrecked their brains.

Donnie DeAngelo was a Navy Corpsman who served with the Marines in Vietnam. The loyalty and tight teamwork that was built then is brought in play back home to save the day. I am not going to give away the ending, but I will say that evil Wall Street is defeated in a way that I only wish could happen in real life more often.

The VA is name-checked several times and not in a flattering manner.  John Wayne is also discussed. To wit: “John Wayne never taught us how to deal with losing our amigos, just how to walk tall and kick ass. I wonder why they leave that part out of the movie scripts?”

This is a thoughtful and exciting thriller with lots of Vietnam War references. The flashbacks to the war are the strongest parts of the book.  I’d like to see another war novel from Certo, but until then, this book will do just fine.  I highly recommend it.

Certo’s website is http://dominiccerto.com

—David Willson

Twin Marines in Hell by Jerry Byrne

Jerry Byrne’s Twin Marines in Hell: From Grade School to Vietnam (CreateSpace, 204 pp., $14,95, paper; $3.99, Kindle), is dedicated to his twin brother, John, who died at age 58 of cancer resulting from exposure to Agent Orange.

Jerry and John Byrne, identical twins, grew up in a family of four boys in Queens, New York. They learned to be good at fisticuffs, being raised in a tough neighborhood. Right after high school graduation in 1963, the twins joined the Marine Corps, and went through boot camp together. Jerry Byrne’s description of the harsh treatment they received at the hands of the drill instructors makes the reader truly comprehend the tough and unforgiving Marine Corps basic training at Parris Island back then.

In March 1966, Jerry Byrne, a long-time member of Vietnam Veterans of America, arrived in Vietnam and was assigned to 3rd Platoon, Kilo Company, 3rd Bn., 7th Marines in the Chu Lai area. Within days of his, the FNG went out on Operation Texas with his battalion. The author captures the intense loneliness and fear that a Marine new to his unit experiences in his first exposure to combat. He eventually attained the rank of corporal and became a squad leader.

U.S. Marines at Chu Lai in 1966

After five months, just when he began to think he had a good handle on being a squad leader, Byrne was transferred to the Chu Lai Defense Command along with fifteen other Marine “volunteers.” They were part of a newly formed CAP Unit (Combined Action Platoon) that worked with Vietnamese Popular Force soldiers to defend a village.

This is where Jerry Byrne’s growing disenchantment with the war really took off. He describes in detail the rampant corruption among the village leaders and his PF “buddies.” He even ran into his twin brother in the village one day, and the two of them managed to keep each other out of trouble.

Before Jerry Byrne got into official trouble due to his contempt for his PF allies, he was transferred to Camp Hansen, Okinawa, and served the rest of his overseas tour there. His welcome home from the war was nonexistent, even hostile. Like the rest of us, Jerry wasn’t prepared for the shoddy coming-home treatment he received. His writing captures the anger and disappointment he felt very well.

On the plus side, the book has nineteen pages of quality photographs. One negative is that more proof reading should have been done to insure that typos and misspelled words would be caught before the finalized manuscript went to press.

This powerful memoir is a bluntly told account of identical twin brothers growing up together, then facing their challenging journey together into the U.S. Marine Corps during the Vietnam War.

—Jim Coan

Wartorn Heart by Kathleen Trew Swazuk

Kathleen Trew Swazuk was an Army nurse at the 93rd EVAC Hospital in Long Binh during her 1969-70 tour of duty in the Vietnam War. Her “scars have taken years to heal,” she writes in Wartorn Heart: Poems and Art Inspired by the Vietnam War (Blurb, 48 pp., $41.49)

This large, thin, and beautiful book contains very short poems bolstered by art work by many different artists. The poems and the art resonate with, and support, each other. And they resonate with the reader.

The poem that spoke loudest to me is  “Agent Orange.” It’s almost as if the poem was written for me, or by me.

Agent Orange

Sprayed orange in a yellow war.

Breathing in and out the pixie dust that coats the air…

Seeping into body trying to destroy the soul.

 

I am old now.  The body is racked with pain

bones soft and bones broken.

Lungs no longer willing to expand

and let in the reborn air of spring.

Inert too long, I must climb out of this

bunker I have built,

to isolate my wornout

body to try and heal my war torn soul.

 

There will be no choppers to rescue me.

Escape must be on my own.

I wave the white flag of surrender

so that I can move into the light.

I walk toward the sunrise

and brightness of a new day.

 

A new beginning…A new landing zone

where the dust is no longer orange.

 

The book contains many photographs of the people and the work done at 93rd Evac during the author’s time there. The horror and pain of the butcher’s bill of war are well communicated in this book. It takes a place of honor in the literature of nursing in the Vietnam War.

—David Willson