Agent Orange Affects Northland Veterans Decades Later

Agent Orange was a herbicide, sprayed by the U.S. military during the Vietnam War.

DULUTH, Minn.-Many veterans from the Vietnam war are struggling with health problems due to a herbicide known as agent orange, a tactical chemical that the military used to clear the forest floor, and remove enemy cover during battle. Two Northland veterans that are dealing with the aftermath of agent orange all these years later.

Overall nearly 300 thousand veterans have died from Agent Orange exposure, according to the Department of Veteran Affairs. Two Northland Veterans are still dealing with the symptoms decades later.

“Because I still remember the day, watching that bird go over us spraying and you could even taste it you know but not knowing at that time what it really was,” Rice Lake Mayor and Vietnam veteran John Werner said.

Agent Orange was a herbicide, sprayed by the U.S. military during the Vietnam War.

“He said oh that’s to kill off all the foliage down along the river there so we can spot the enemy when they’re coming across to attack us,” Vietnam veteran Brad Bennett said. “My mind though that’s a good thing.”

Over the course of the war nearly 20 million gallons of Agent Orange sprayed from airplanes to hand–sprayers.

“We had water that we had washed our hands in and washed ourselves with that was probably laced with that stuff all the time,” Bennett said.

Decades later Agent Orange is catching up with Vietnam Veterans.

“My story is not unique,” Werner said.

The Vietnam War is affecting Rice Lake’s Mayor John Werner.

“I’m not the first to have agent orange,” Werner said.

Near the end of 2014 John’s blood and kidney numbers spiked.

“At that particular moment when she said we go a problem, I said is that agent orange,” Werner said.

John had been diagnosed with cancer, one of the serious health issues some Vietnam Veterans are facing caused by Agent Orange. John was warned his children and grandchildren may suffer birth defects, but says luckily it didn’t affect his family. Veterans that served in Vietnam or Korea during 1962 to 1975 are potentially dealing with similar worries.

“It’s the wound that never heals,” Bennett said.

Then the Minnesota Registry for Agent Orange began in 1975. Bennet, another Northland Veteran is now on the list.

“This finger on my right hand has a constant for lack of a better word dry rash, that never seems to go anyway no matter what I do with it,” Bennett said.

They’ve continued to keep in touch with fellow servicemen dealing with similar health issues.

“Excuse me but I left that damn country 50 years ago and it came back to haunt me,” Werner said.

Although the toxic chemical is no longer used the veterans say other toxic exposures have taken its place.

“When I first heard about the burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan I didn’t doubt it for a moment I just said there it is again,” Werner said.

Some refer to the Burn Pits as the new Agent Orange, as thousands are added to the registry, but John believes every fight comes with fury. Referring to issues with depleted uranium in the gulf war, and asbestos in World War Two. Regardless of medical complications, John and Brad were able to come back home.

“When I hold one of my grandkids I think one of them would have loved to held a grandkid but they don’t get to,” Bennett said. “So I guess what I would ask the people is just to remember what memorial day is all about.”

“It’s more alarming the rate of flags we have to put out extra every year,” Andrew Werner said.

“One day I just stopped by, it was Memorial weekend, I just started putting out flags and never stopped,” Andrew Werner said.

Every year the Werner family decorates Veterans’ graves, an idea from John’s son Andrew.

“I’ve made peace with it, whatever time I’ve got I’m constantly doing things,” John Werner said.

I know a lot of people that the widows are here with there husbands have already passed. Memorial Day is just one day out of the year, but veterans ask you take time out of every day to remember those that fought for the freedoms we have.

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