At our club meeting last Wednesday we listened to an impassioned speaker tell us about the terrible lingering effects of Agent Orange, used as a defoliant in Vietnam in the early 1960’s to help us win the war quickly. Mack Payne is a decorated veteran of two years in Vietnam.  He is a graduate of the University of Florida, has an MBA, and is a graduate of the US Army Command and General Staff College.  He has held elective office in Collier County, Florida, and owned and operated businesses in the state.  He lives in Lake Placid, FL.
Mack began by thanking Rotary Clubs for what they do, and identifying and acknowledging several Vietnam veterans among us that morning. Vietnam vets are everywhere, he said, and it’s a shame that their experiences are not more widely known. “It’s not a pretty story,” Mack said, and proceeded to tell us about it. Agent Orange (usually packaged in containers with orange bands or stripes) has an ingredient known as TCDD, (2,3,7,8 tetrochlorodibenzo-p-dioxin, for the chemists among us.) This deadly ingredient was not revealed, in fact it was concealed, by the chemical companies responsible for recommending its use to President Kennedy and his advisors as a means of saving money and lives as the Vietnam War went on.

Mack’s story indicated that various major chemical companies saw an opportunity (saw $ signs, he said.) They approached the Pentagon with claims that the use of Agent Orange could save lives, time, and money, eliminate hiding places used by the enemy, “it’s just what’s needed, won’t do any harm to people or animals.” By the mid-1960s it was becoming evident that something was seriously wrong. It was starting to be seen that the substance was causing damage to our armed forces and, we had to assume, to the Vietnamese and anyone who came into contact with it. Twenty-two million gallons of the substance had been sprayed all over the country, covering everything.

Strange cancers and other serious illnesses began to be evident among people exposed to the substance. President Kennedy ordered immediate cessation to the use of Agent Orange and assembled a team of scientists to assess the problem. Then President Kennedy was assassinated and the issue was muted; the Veterans Administration was unresponsive. It was not until 1991 that Congress passed the Agent Orange Benefit Act which acknowledged the damage that had been done.

BUT there is a group of veterans who were also victims of this substance: the group which has become known as the “Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans,” who served in the waters off Vietnam. Why were they affected? They were about ten miles offshore, weren’t they all right? “No,” said Mack. “It rains in Vietnam,” he said. The chemical substance, which was oily in texture, ran in rivers and streams and out to the South China Sea. U.S. Naval vessels sucked up this polluted water through their distillers for use on board. The men came home, became sick, and nobody listened.

Now, at last, there is legislation pending in Congress – “maybe it’ll pass,” Mack said, and went on to ask us very seriously to take action on “The “Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veteran Act.” The bills are:
Senate: S-681
House: HR-969

Please, he said, contact your senators and representatives and demand that this legislation be passed, call, fax, mail, on-line at – be heard.
Below are pictured Max and President Tom.