10 Things The VA Wants You To Know About Agent Orange

Photo courtesy of the VA website.

Photo courtesy of the VA website.

The official blog for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, VAntage Point, has produced a “Top 10 List” of important information all veterans should know about the herbicide Agent Orange used during the Vietnam War. It was sprayed on trees, vegetation, forests and waterways along boarders in Cambodia, Laos, and in South Vietnam.

The list is below, and you can read the full details on today’s VAntage Point.

  1. Agent Orange was a herbicide and defoliant used in Vietnam.
  2. Any Veteran who served anywhere in Vietnam during the war is presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange.
  3. VA has linked several diseases and health conditions to Agent Orange exposure.
  4. Veterans who want to be considered for disability compensation must file a claim.
  5. VA offers health care benefits for Veterans who may have been exposed to Agent Orange and other herbicides during military service.
  6. Participating in an Agent Orange Registry health exam helps other Veterans and the VA.
  7. VA recognizes and offers support for the children of Veterans affected by Agent Orange who have birth defects.
  8. Vietnam Veterans are not the only Veterans who may have been exposed to Agent Orange.
  9. VA continues to conduct research on the long-term health effects of Agent Orange.
  10. VA contracts with an independent, non-governmental organization to review the scientific information on Agent Orange.

The VA blog entry is written by Dr. Ralph Erickson, a 32-year Army Veteran of the Gulf War (1990-91) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (2003) who has also served as Commander of The Walter Reed Army Institute of Research; Command Surgeon, US Central Command; and Director, DoD Global Emerging Infections and Response System (DOD-GEIS).

Recognizing POWs, Remembering Those Still Missing

Source: wikimedia.org

Source: wikimedia.org

The following is an article written by Darlene Richardson, Historian, Department of Veterans Affairs:

This Friday, September 20, 2013, marks the 34th annual observance of National Prisoner of War and Missing in Action Recognition Day in America.

Since our country beginnings, hundreds of soldiers, sailors and Marines who left their homes to fight America’s wars were imprisoned and held against their will by our enemies, or they never returned home; their fates, as yet, unknown.

Roughly 16 million Americans served in World War II, and at the end of the war 79,000 were missing. Today, 73,000 from World War II remain missing and unaccounted for.

In the Vietnam War’s aftermath, over 2,500 Servicemembers were missing and their families pressed the government for action. While the military continued its efforts to locate and account for all of the missing, a joint resolution of Congress and a presidential proclamation by President Jimmy Carter called on the nation to remember those who had not returned home and pronounced July 18, 1979 as the first National POW/MIA Recognition Day in the U.S.

This special day of remembrance was established to “honor those Americans who have been prisoners of war and those listed as missing in action…and to rekindle the memory of the sacrifices these individuals have made for their country and our indebtedness to them.”

This annual commemorative day was originally held in April or July, until 1986, when it was observed on the third Friday in September for the first time. The designated day for the national recognition is determined each year by a joint resolution of Congress, followed by a Presidential proclamation and has been observed in late September since 1986.

Many VA medical centers will be holding special ceremonies this week to honor POW/MIA Americans. Find your local VA facility here.

Airmen From Vietnam War Identified

And just as MIA recognition day arrives, so does word that the Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) that the remains of Air Force pilots Maj. James E. Sizemore of Lawrenceville, Ill., and Maj. Howard V. Andre Jr., of Memphis, Tenn., have been identified and will be returned to their families for burial with full military honors on Sept. 23 at Arlington National Cemetery.

The duo died when their aircraft crashed July 8, 1969 in Xiangkhoang Province, Laos but their remains were unaccounted for until April 2013. There are more than 1,640 American service members still unaccounted-for from the Vietnam War. More information is available at the http://www.dtic.mil/dpmo.

by Darlene Richardson, Historian, Department of Veterans Affairs
Thursday, September 19, 2013

This Friday, September 20, 2013, marks the 34th annual observance of National Prisoner of War and Missing in Action Recognition Day in America.

Since our country beginnings, hundreds of soldiers, sailors and Marines who left their homes to fight America’s wars were imprisoned and held against their will by our enemies, or they never returned home; their fates, as yet, unknown.

Roughly 16 million Americans served in World War II, and at the end of the war 79,000 were missing. Today, 73,000 from World War II remain missing and unaccounted for.

In the Vietnam War’s aftermath, over 2,500 Servicemembers were missing and their families pressed the government for action. While the military continued its efforts to locate and account for all of the missing, a joint resolution of Congress and a presidential proclamation by President Jimmy Carter called on the nation to remember those who had not returned home and pronounced July 18, 1979 as the first National POW/MIA Recognition Day in the U.S.

– See more at: http://www.va.gov/health/NewsFeatures/2013/September/Missing-but-Not-Forgotten.asp#sthash.IjYNP0Wk.dpuf

Vietnam MIA Navy Crew to be Buried Together

Vietnam War Memorial courtesy of bigreadblog.arts.gov

Vietnam War Memorial courtesy of bigreadblog.arts.gov

On July 19, 1967, the four servicemen took off from the USS Hornet aboard an SH-3A Sea King helicopter, on a search and rescue mission looking for a downed pilot in Ha Nam Province, North Vietnam according to a Department of Defense release.

During the mission, the helicopter was hit anti-aircraft gunfire, causing the aircraft to lose control, catch fire and crash, killing all four servicemen.

The Crew

Navy Lt. Dennis W. Peterson of Huntington Park, Calif., was the pilot of a SH-3A helicopter.  Peterson was accounted for on March 30, 2012.  Also, aboard the aircraft was Ensign Donald P. Frye of Los Angeles, Calif.; Aviation Antisubmarine Warfare Technicians William B. Jackson of Stockdale, Texas; and Donald P. McGrane of Waverly, Iowa. 

The crew will be buried, as a group, on May 2, 2013, Thursday, at Arlington National Cemetery.  

Solving the MIA Mystery

Finding and identifying their remains reads somewhat like a mystery according to the DoD news release.

  • In October 1982, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (S.R.V.) repatriated five boxes of remains to U.S. officials.  In 2009, the remains within the boxes were identified as Frye, Jackson, and McGrane.
  • In 1993, a joint U.S./S.R.V. team, investigated a loss in Ha Nam Province.  The team interviewed local villagers who identified possible burial sites linked to the loss.  One local claimed to have buried two of the crewmen near the wreckage, but indicated that both graves had subsequently been exhumed.  
  • Between 1994 and 2000, three joint U.S./S.R.V. teams excavated the previous site and recovered human remains and aircraft wreckage that correlated to the crew’s SH-3A helicopter.  In 2000, U.S. personnel excavated the crash site recovering additional remains.  Analysis from the Joint POW/MIA Command Central Identification Laboratory subsequently designated these additional remains as the co-mingled remains of all four crewmen, including Peterson. 

Defense Department scientists used forensics and circumstantial evidence to identify the missing crew’s remains.

American POWs Released from North Vietnam 40 Years Ago

Photo credit: Freedom Star Media

Photo credit: Freedom Star Media

On Feb. 12, 1973, more than 140 American prisoners of war were set free.

One of them was Lee Ellis, a retired Air Force colonel, a fighter pilot, who was shot down over Vietnam and spent more than five years as a POW in the downtown prison nicknamed – the “Hanoi Hilton.”

“It’s a French prison built in the early 1900s. It occupies an entire downtown block,” Ellis said. “The walls are 15 feet high, 5 or 6 feet thick, guard towers at all the corners so impossible to escape from.”

Likening their prison to a “hotel” was part of the gallows humor that Ellis said got him and others through their captivity and torture. Ellis turned the experience into a book: “Leading with Honor: Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hotel.”

Ellis said his fellow POWs and the military leaders at the Hanoi Hilton like the senior ranking officer, Lt. Col. Robbie Risner, helped him recover and learn to deal with the torture.

taps-on-the-walls_custom-9849ed78ea79f780d11f6dcb5812fa93223db8af-s2“He said we just need to bounce back. He said be a good American, live by the code of conduct. Take torture to resist only up to the point of where you don’t lose physical or mental damage,” Ellis said. “Then, go ahead and give in, give as little as possible and ready to bounce back.”

Another among the men to start the long journey back home that day was John Borling.

An Air Force fighter pilot, Borling was shot down on his 97th mission over Vietnam. He spent the next six years and eight months in the “Hanoi Hilton,” a place of torture, deprivation and often solitary confinement.

Borling spent much of his time there just trying to survive. He also composed poetry — in his head, without benefit of pencil or paper.

NPR interviewed him about his book of poems written and memorized during those years, Taps on the Walls: Poems from the Hanoi Hilton. It’s a tribute, as he told NPR, to the “power of the unwritten word.”

A list of Florida POW/MIAs is available here.

Learning Leadership as a Vietnam POW at the “Hanoi Hilton”

Author and former POW Lee Ellis in the WUSF studios in Tampa. Photo credit: Yoselis Ramos/WUSF

Author and former POW Lee Ellis in the WUSF studios in Tampa. Photo credit: Yoselis Ramos/WUSF

Living with rats and bugs – enduring no heat in the winter or cooling in the summer – surviving torture – these are conditions that Lee Ellis endured as a prisoner of war and he says taught him leadership.

Ellis is a retired Air Force colonel, a fighter pilot, who was shot down over Vietnam and spent more than five years as a POW in the downtown prison nicknamed – the “Hanoi Hilton.”

“It’s a French prison built in the early 1900s. It occupies an entire downtown block,” Ellis said. “The walls are 15 feet high, 5 or 6 feet thick, guard towers at all the corners so impossible to escape from.”

Likening their prison to a “hotel” was part of the gallows humor that Ellis said got him and others through their captivity and torture.

His new book is “Leading with Honor: Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hotel.”

Photo credit: Freedom Star Media

Photo credit: Freedom Star Media

Ellis said his most powerful lesson came after his first interrogation that included torture. It lasted almost 24 hours before he agreed to fill out a biography..

“I gave my name, rank, service number, date of birth which that is what we were supposed to do,” Ellis said. “But I didn’t give any more that was accurate, except for my father’s name.”

Yet he felt broken having given in to the torture, his morale hit an all time low.

“I felt like I was the weakest, poorest military person who had ever worn the uniform,” Ellis said. “As it turned out later, I’ve learned that everybody had been through that type of thing and done about the same thing.”

Ellis said his fellow POWs and the military leaders at the Hanoi Hilton like the senior ranking officer, Lt. Col. Robbie Risner, helped him recover and learn to deal with the torture.

“He said we just need to bounce back. He said be a good American, live by the code of conduct. Take torture to resist only up to the point of where you don’t lose physical or mental damage,” Ellis said. “Then, go ahead and give in, give as little as possible and ready to bounce back.”

Ellis’ book is broken into 14 chapters. The first six chapters address how to lead yourself. The last eight chapters detail skills needed to lead others.

Each chapter starts with a story about his time as a POW. He then describes the specific leadership skill he learned followed by examples of how that skill applies to today’s civilian world and CEOs.

You can hear Ellis’ interview with WUSF 89.7 FM HERE.

A Call for Vietnam Veterans on 30th Anniversary of The Wall

Patriot Guard Rider from the Tampa Bay area.

Patriot Guard Rider from the Tampa Bay area.

Here’s an opportunity for Vietnam Veterans to tell their story on video as part of 30th anniversary of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C.

The video below, sponsored by the AARP, features voices of veterans and family members.

At the end of the video is a link with instructions on how to upload your own video story.

You can also click here to connect to YouTube, where you can sign in to your account or create one by clicking the button in the upper right of the YouTube screen.

 

To Vietnam Veterans: “You Did Your Job, Welcome Home”

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama are joined at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall by Rose Marie Sabo-Brown, the widow of Medal of Honor recipient Specialist Leslie H. Sabo, Jr., U.S. Army, during the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War commemoration ceremony in Washington, D.C., May 28, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

This is for all the Vietnam Veterans. I am a bit tardy posting the commemorative event marking the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War.

In his speech at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, President Barack Obama noted the occasion with this message to Vietnam Veterans: “You did your job … Welcome home, welcome home.”

The “Wall” – as it became known – helped to begin the healing of the nation, Veterans and civilians after the divisive and controversial war.

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