You have all read Kenneth H. Young’s articles and know he is an upfront advocate for Canadian veterans, but few know his own story of his experience with Agent Orange. He was invited to attend a world conference about Agent Orange in Viet Nam as Canada’s sole representative, and he brought to light Canada’s shameful contribution to this tragic disaster. That Ken is still here and able to speak out is a miracle in its own right. He gained worldwide respect for Canada’s Agent Orange victims. Thank you, Ken, for your stellar represenation of Canadian veterans. We are all proud of you.
Here is the speech Ken gave at the Viet Nam conference. BONNIE
First, I would like to thank VAVA for inviting me here and assure them that we Canadian AO Victims are behind you.
Canada started in earnest to produce, test and use Agent Orange in 1956—the year Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Gagetown, which is located in NB, Canada, was first opened.
CFB Gagetown is 1100 mi² or 704,000 acre and according to the DNDs own documentation, only 181,000 acres were ever sprayed with chemicals. But because many of the sites were sprayed every two years, this is misleading and with more than 3.3 million pounds and litres of chemicals used at CFB Gagetown, it means that many areas have received more than 100 pounds or litres per acre.
Late in 1972 (Recce Platoon 1 RCR) was sent to Gagetown to participate in Exercise Running Jump II, as the enemy. After a week’s warm up, we were given a few days off in order to relocate the Division.
A few friends and I wished to go fishing and were given permission and a 3/4 ton truck to get us there. After having no luck in some lakes, we decided to go to yet another location and to our surprise found ourselves in the middle of Division HQ.
Although it was an honest mistake, they couldn’t very well leave their HQ and surrounding regiments where we (the enemy) knew they were – and I am sure as every soldier here knows, if you make a General unhappy, it won’t be long before he returns the favour as we were soon to find out.
That night my whole platoon was transported to a location in the dark, given compass reading and told to follow them until we came out the other side, where we would be picked up in the morning. We were in a tangle of dead and cut hardwood trees, which were left lying where they fell. We crawled, stumbled and scrambled over branches and stumps, often six feet above the ground only to tumble bouncing off branches to the dusty dead ground below. You see there was no moon that night and we had no lights.
It wasn’t long before we began to have an awful taste in our mouths. Since we only had a slight bit of water, we swallowed rather than rinse and spit out. It took us close to ten hours to make our way through. When we emerged, we were covered with dust. Our faces, clothes and even our hair were all the same colour. And we stunk, but we were happy to get back to camp and wash up.
About two weeks later, I experienced flu like symptoms, diarrhea, cramps, nausea and so on, and now that I check my military medical documentation, it was a twice or three-time a year thing, until 1974, when the cramps became so bad I could no longer stand and was placed in the hospital where I stayed for six months.
Six months, hundreds of tests, two operations later and down to 63 pounds weight, I was sent home to die, because the hospital could not do anything more for me. (As you can see, it was more than a few year and pounds ago.) I was missing my spleen and a number of swollen glands for reasons unknown. I have to this day never been told what I had, why I was sick or why I had lost so much weight.
1974 spleen removed – immune problem
1977 left the military for medical reasons.
1988 diagnosed colon Cancer- half colon removed.
1989 diagnosed diabetes.
In 2005, the first clue of AO was finally released to the public when a General who served in CFB Gagetown was awarded the first Canadian-acquired, Agent Orange disability pension.
Shortly thereafter, a few friends and I formed the AOAC—Agent Orange Association Of Canada, got ourselves educated about the Rainbow Chemicals, started a law suit against the government of Canada and tried to get properly organized.
Our Class Action Law suit has in effect been rejected, because as the court put it, it happened too long ago, too many chemicals are in question, too many people are involved, and too many medical conditions are indicated for the courts to sort out.
The Canadian Government spent over $8 million and I would think that both Monsanto and Dow Chemical spent a total of at least $24 million to prevent us from ever getting to court.
One of the lawyer’s final arguments to the courts as reported to me was, “How can they possibly prove that Dioxin was the cause of their medical conditions, when we also sprayed them with 26 other chemicals?” In my opinion, this is a very sad commentary for our legal system.
Instead, our government chose to find the smallest chemical use which could be successfully segregated from all of the rest and gave these people an ex-gratia payment of $20,000. This happened to be for a two and one half barrels spraying, done by the U.S. Military, in Gagetown, in 1966 /67, for all of seven days.
This allowed them to compensate around 4,000 victims, without ever saying that they were sorry or accept any guilt or responsibility for the harm done, and allowed the Government of Canada to publically (but incorrectly) claim to have finally dealt with the Gagetown Agent Orange Issue.
The actual number of Canadian soldiers to have trained during the 28-ear defoliation program was 415,000.
The Canadian Government sprayed more than 5,500 barrels plus 2.2 million pounds of dry chemicals for a total of 3.3 million pounds or litres of the very same chemicals Canada was shipping to the U.S. for use in Vietnam.
But there were a further 2 or 3 hundred thousand U.S. military, 200,000 British military and many more from other countries who also trained there.
In Closing, if I may: I am not sure how things work here in Vietnam but in Canada, or at least between our Veterans, we call each other Brothers and Sisters. Many AO victims have extended this salutation to Civilian AO Victims.
We Canadian AO Victims have too much in common, too many of us with the same pains and sorrows, too many identical stories and too many of the same battles yet to win, with the Vietnamese AO Victims to be anything but your Brothers and Sisters.
Thank you, Brothers and Sisters.