When young U.S. Marine Capt., the late James Thompson, left Vietnam, it’s doubtful he realized that the impact of the conflict on his mind and body would continue to show for the rest of his life.
“He had PTSD when he came back,” said Thompson’s widow, Linda. “He was always a Marine and worked out every day.”
Thompson was recently posthumously awarded a Vietnam Dagger by local veterans to honor his service in Marines from 1964 to 1978.
Preceding his death July 5, Thompson had lived at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Murfreesboro for 10 years. According to his wife, Thompson suffered from various cancers caused by the Agent Orange he was exposed to in Vietnam. He also had Huntington’s disease, a neurodegenerative genetic disorder.
Long before ever showing any symptoms of the diseases that would rob him of his life and vigor, Thompson, a Purple Heart recipient, experienced the mental scares of war. Lingering memories of those left behind, violent flashbacks and the icy hand of guilt that comes in the still of the night showed not weakness but the strength of the man and that of those who shared that pain.
“It pains me when I see the wives of all the veterans coming back now,” Linda said knowing what the women will face.
Thompson will be re-interred at Arlington National Cemetery on Jan. 21.
Government estimates suggest that as many as 2 million servicemen were possibly exposed to tactical herbicides, including Agent Orange. As of September of 2012, over 638,846 Agent Orange registry evaluations have been performed.
Agent Orange is one of a series of so called rainbow herbicides used in Southeast Asia. It was actually a reddish-brown liquid. The color codes come from the color bands used to designate each formula.
Orange was a 1-to-1 mixture of commercial herbicides, 2,4-D (still in use) and 2,4,5-T (since banned in the U.S.). In addition to the heath threats associated with 2,4,5-T, the compound was found to be contaminated with a powerful carcinogen and mutagen, dioxin.
Estimates suggest that over 20,000,000 gallons of tactical herbicides were sprayed in Vietnam. Military personnel were reportedly exposed to Agent Orange in Johnston Atoll, Korea, Thailand, Okinawa, Japan, and even in the U.S.
According to a 2006 report on Agent Orange for Department of Defense, “Programs for the Testing, Evaluation, and Storage” by Alvin L. Young, Ph. D., the Army performed tests stateside from the 1940s through 1960s to evaluate effectiveness of several commercially available herbicides.
Personnel from Fort Detrick, Md., arranged with the TVA a series of test in East Tennessee in the summer of 1964.
The Department of Veteran Affairs simply reports that the tests involved “Diquat and Tordon 101 and various” other chemicals, and was performed with DoD Involvement.
The study by Young elaborates that the transmission power line right-of-way tests were conducted from June 17 – July 2-3, 1964, between Coker Creek, Tenn., and Hiwassee Dam, N.C., using formulas Orange, White (Picloram-2,4-D), Purple (a sister formula of Orange) and commercial herbicides.
Orange was sprayed from a Bell G-3 at an altitude of 60 ft. over 3 acres at 4, 8 and 33 lbs. per acre. White was sprayed at 6.25, 11.5, 19.10 and 25.5 lbs./acre. The standard application in Vietnam was set at 3 gallons per acre or about 30 lbs. per acre.
Contaminates in the area have long since dissipated.
Any veteran that might have conditions resulting from Agent Orange can contact a VA Agent Orange Registry coordinator for a free health exam. In Middle Tennessee, Environmental Health Coordinators are Santina Wahl, (270) 798-4875, and Annette Allen, (615) 873-8146, at the Alvin C. York Campus in Murfreesboro.
Those eligible include veterans who served in Vietnam between 1962 and 1975, regardless of length of time; veterans who served aboard smaller river patrol and swift boats that operated on the inland waterways of Vietnam (also known as “Brown Water Veterans”); Korean veterans who served in a unit in or near the Korean Demilitarized Zone anytime between April 1, 1968 and August 31, 1971 or U.S. Air Force veterans who served in Thailand on Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) bases near U-Tapao, Ubon, Nakhon Phanom, Udorn, Takhli, Korat, and Don Muang, near the air base perimeter anytime between February 28, 1961 and May 7, 1975 or U.S. Army Veterans who provided perimeter security on RTAF bases in Thailand anytime between February 28, 1961 and May 7, 1975. Other eligibility is listed at www.publichealth.va.gov.
According to the VA, over 187,000 Vietnam Era veterans live in Tennessee as of 2012. The department estimates overall 5,000 veterans live in Coffee County.