The author of this article was scheduled to be a keynote speaker at our 2021 Co. A, 1/501st Vietnam Vet reunion, but due to new circumstances, he is unable to attend. Gus Kappler, MD, was a trauma surgeon at the 85th Evac in Phu Bai during 1970 and 1971. During the war, 54,300 gallons of Agent Orange were sprayed over Phu Bai, Vietnam. Six months ago, he was diagnosed with Chronic B-Cell Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL). The VA admits it was caused by Agent Orange exposure. Gus alleges that he served honorably but is now being punished. This is a copy of the speech Gus was planning to give…

NOTE: This post includes several links to outside articles and reports to substantiate statements made herein.

I’m eighty years old and recently diagnosed with Chronic B-Cell Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL). I am a young, vibrant eighty. I accepted the diagnosis. My blood counts are currently quite good; there is a significant risk of developing an aggressive form of CLL. 

I understand that the causation of my CLL was beyond my control. I’m not referring to God, predestination, or family history.

Fifty years after arriving in wartime Vietnam, I am now a victim of Agent Orange. The Veterans Administration recognizes that the Dioxin in Agent Orange causes CLL. This herbicide was manufactured by Monsanto and Dow Chemical, who deceivingly guaranteed its safety when in contact with humans. There was suspicion of a former CEO of Dow falsified research reports proclaiming the herbicide’s safety. See: https://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/Paul_F_Oreffice

Over fifty-four thousand gallons of Agent Orange had been sprayed by fixed-wing aircraft over a small area in Vietnam, near the South China Sea, and halfway in-between Hue and Da Nang called Phu Bai.  There is no accounting of the additional amount sprayed by hand and from helicopters, vehicles, and boats. Napalm was added to complete the devastation. It most likely aerosolized the Dioxin to more easily be inhaled.

See: http://cybersarges.tripod.com/AOphotos.html

So what?

Well, the 85th Evacuation Hospital, where I served as a trauma surgeon for a year, ’70-’71, was located there. We drank, made ice cubes, and showered with the contaminated water and inhaled Dioxin in the dust.

So far, I know of at least nine men I served with at the 85th Evac who have suffered from one or more Agent Orange-related diseases. Six of them are dead – colon cancer (denied by the VA), bladder cancer, prostate cancer, Parkinsonism, leukemia, lymphoma, diabetes, ischemic heart disease, basal cell skin cancers, and melanoma. See: https://youtu.be/g8BUnLPQDkw

How did this tragedy evolve?

Early on, our military leaders in Vietnam realized that fighting a guerrilla war against an indigenous enemy was a whole new ballgame. The Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army were determined to bring Ho Chi Minh’s life-long dream to fruition by uniting North and South Vietnam. They also wished to repulse the ill-conceived invasion of their sovereign country by the United States.

The jungle canopy obscured enemy movements. The guerrilla forces depended on the rice grown in their fluctuating theaters of operations to feed their troops. 

Killing more than two birds with one stone, i.e., our soldiers, the military brass decided to irradicate the jungle canopy and crops by spraying herbicides. The enemy would be visualized and starved; not so, they moved at night and delivered rice down the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

The US government and military agreed, including presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon, to utilize a “Rain Bow” of herbicides (identified by their color designation), including Agent Orange. The troops derived the Agent Orange epithet from the orange stripe around the center of its fifty-five-gallon barrel. 

However, there was a significant contraindication to Agent Orange spraying. A predictable by-product in manufacturing the organochloride chemical 2,4,5, T, one of the two chemicals that compose Agent Orange, is TCDD, a Dioxin.  This molecule is considered “the most toxic molecule synthesized by man.” Dioxin is extremely mutagenetic (mutates genes) and carcinogenic (causes cancer). 

Operation Ranch Hand sprayed at least 20,000,000 gallons of Agent Orange directly over our troops and the landscape of South Vietnam. War planners increased the concentration of the sprayed solution to two parts per million. Five parts per trillion (100,000 times less) causes cancer in laboratory rats. Napalm was added to complete the devastation. It most likely aerosolized the Dioxin to more easily be inhaled.

We did not have a chance! 

As Reported by Special Assistant Admiral E.R. Zumwalt, Jr., May 5, 1990 reveals an apathetic approach from the Department of Veteran Affairs. See: http://gulfwarvets.com/ao.html

The definition of naiveté.

Yes, all the US government and military leaders did agree, including presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon, to utilize multiple herbicides, including Agent Orange. Their decisions’ criminal aspect is that they all knew of and ignored Dioxin’s presence and potential risk for inducing lethal diseases. The first sinful act.

Our leaders disregarded the 1925 Geneva Protocol that prohibited the use of chemical and biological weapons. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geneva_Protocol

“Kennedy examined ‘tricks and gadgets’ that might give the South an edge in the jungle, and in November 1961 sanctioned the use of defoliants in a covert operation code-named Ranch Hand, every mission flown signed off by the president himself and managed in Saigon by the secret Committee 202…”

See: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2003/mar/29/usa.adrianlevy

“After Lyndon Johnson assumed the presidency, he ordered an increase in the use of herbicides. In 1968, Dr. Lee DuBridge warned President-elect Nixon about a National Institutes of Health study that showed a connection between the herbicides sprayed across Vietnam and ‘stillbirths and malformations in mice.’ Yet by 1970, 200,000 gallons a month of Agent Orange were being used. “Defense Secretary Melvin Laird considered curtailing the use of such herbicides,” says historian C.B. Currey, “but General Creighton Abrams, commander in Vietnam, and his boss, Admiral John S. McCain, Jr., Commander-in-Chief, Pacific, as well as Admiral Thomas H. Moorer, acting Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, reaffirmed the necessity for its use.”

And!

“During the war, many people understood some of the dangers and protested the use of Agent Orange. Congressman Robert W. Kastenmeier urged discontinuing the use of herbicides in Vietnam, a demand echoed by an editorial in the Washington Post. In 1967, Dr. Arthur W. Galston, often referred to as the man who discovered Dioxin in 1943, joined with other scientists to plead with Washington not to use Agent Orange in Vietnam. The Federation of American Scientists, members of the National Academy of Sciences, 17 Nobel laureates, the Rand Corporation and others urged terminating this form of chemical warfare. In fact, in 1969, United Nations Resolution No. 2603-A declared that the use of chemical agents in a manner used by the US in Vietnam was a violation of the 1925 Geneva Protocol, a war crime. The UN General Assembly passed this resolution by a vote of 80 to 3.” See: http://politicalaffairs.net/killing-me-softly-how-agent-orange-murders-vietnam-s-children/.

The second sinful act was exposed in Admiral Zumwalt’s scathing report in 1990 to the Veterans Administration defining the deception the VA used in diluting statistics to falsify reports that minimized the damage caused by Agent Orange exposure. 

See: http://gulfwarvets.com/ao.html

The Vietnam War officially ended in 1975. Our Nation deployed over two million servicemen and women to Vietnam on land and sea. All, to varying degrees, were exposed to Agent Orange and other “Rain Bow” herbicides that contained Dioxin.

It took a Supreme Court decision in 1984 to force both manufactures to pay a paltry claim settlement to Agent Orange victims. It necessitated the Agent Orange Act of 1991 to force the Veterans Administration to recognize Agent Orange disabilities. Until that time, veterans suffered and died from various diseases directly caused by Dioxin. Their children were born with grotesque birth defects. They did not receive the compensation they certainly deserved from an agency representing the country they willingly and honorably served. This evasion of responsibility was a callous decision by our government and its politicians to discard and not help our warriors. Was it done for the nebulous rationalization of the “greater good?”

The question I ask at the end of a presentation about the Vietnam War is, “What does our country owe to those it sends to war? To rehabilitate or discard?”

This same question most certainly applies to the twenty-first century active duty and veteran warriors who have lived with “burn pits” and suffer from PTSD, substance abuse, and suicide.

See: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/12/us/politics/veterans-burn-pits-congress.html.

Also, see https://youtu.be/Q-FDupMy8J8.

When engaging these twenty-first-century warriors, the Veterans Administration appears to be reincarnating the old playbook they applied to Agent Orange disability. But that is beyond the scope of my message.

Yes, I feel violated, deceived, victimized, cheated, and scared. 

I do feel better having ventilated.

I love my country, would not wish to live elsewhere, and would, as most Vietnam Veterans, again serve in Vietnam. 

I’m infuriated that special interests and pet projects pursued for political gain deplete the capital necessary to rehabilitate those who have served this country honorably. 

Our great Nation should not discard its veterans! Never!


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