This is the story of approx 3500 men who changed
New Zealand future, forever.
Long after the war ended for us, the unpopular legacy of Vietnam continued to haunt the soldiers,
Who felt ostracised, and then cursed, when it was proved that they could have cancer from their service.
And then their Government denied it happened.
The soldiers then proved it did.
Agent Orange is one of four main chemical defoliants used by the Americans during the Vietnam War.
Their purpose was two-fold:
To deny the enemy concealed approaches to allied bases, and
To provide observation and fields of fire so that allied units could see what they were shooting at.
Suffice it to say of Agent Orange that it contains dioxin, one of the most potent cacogenics known to man.
They did not know anything about the spraying,
Nor what the chemicals were,
And they had never heard the words, Agent Orange.
What they did know, was that the spraying changed vibrant, green, and lush jungle vegetation.
Into grey lifeless powder with dead trees in which no bird flew, or animals lived.
Soon after the war ended,
A range of disabilities in veterans and their families started to appear.
The veterans complained of skin rashes and a range of early cancers were diagnosed.
For families the early issues were miscarriages and still born children.
The inevitable traumas these manifestations caused included nervous and mental disorders and marital breakdowns.
Until very recent times, little happened for the Vietnam vets; as they struggled to gain recognition for the increasing malaise of health and other disabilities.
Little, that is, except for the vets themselves who continued to cope with the venom and toxicity they believe in their systems.
161 Battery Major, John Masters recalled that he had some maps in an old tin trunk in the garage, and went looking.
He found a very confidential and secret map that showed all the defoliated areas in our Province, and also the locations of all NZ fighting bases,
And that the two sets of locations coincided.
The map was immediately rejected by Govt Minister George Hawkins as "not official" and John Master's bona fides as "to be checked"
This rejection materially increased the publicity attached to that event, and forged the drive for a Select Committee Inquiry into the whole chemical defoliant question affecting Vietnam veterans and their families.
For the first time, MPs had to listen to first-hand; actual accounts of how families had fared over the years, and how continuing Government acceptance of reports that denied the truth of their experience that had so devastated them.
They also heard from the Department of Defence that, rather than not being sprayed, there was indeed documented evidence, which had been available in Defence since 1982,
That New Zealand troops had been exposed to Agent Orange in excess of 350 times.
They also heard two Government Departments; charged with support of veterans' health issues; continue to back both the McLeod report and the earlier Reeves report in the face of that official evidence.
The veterans found a credible ally in an ANU professorial student, who had also been an Australian infantry soldier, and who had fought alongside John Master's unit in Vietnam in 1968.He is Lachlan Irvine.
With beautiful, plain, Aussie language and logic, and with his research backed by the ANU Ethics Committee, he tore the McLeod paper to shreds.
Veterans were listened to and they got their message across for the first time in thirty years.
However, they also listened to two Government Departments still denying the veterans case, even in the face of a third Department that confirmed veterans' long-held claims.
The Select Committee's findings released in October 2004, nearly two years after the McLeod Report, denounced both the Reeves Report and the McLeod Report and made nine strong recommendations for the redress of many issues confronting veterans and their families.
It is extraordinary that no one had been monitoring veterans' health from the time they started expressing concerns.
Australian studies had shown veterans, had elevated rates of melanoma and prostrate cancer,
The children of Vietnam veterans have a suicide rate three times the expected rate of the general population,
An elevated incidence of adrenal cancer,
And acute myeloid leukemia in veterans' children,
Higher than expected rates of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in veterans,
And the possibility of an elevated rate of motor-neuron disease.
Dr McLeod, in a right of reply to the report, said she stood by her findings.
Out of 168 Maori in the NZ 161 battery, 54 are dead, one third, at an average life span of 51 years and 7 months.
Almost a quarter of the young men who went to Vietnam are now dead, and the average life span they "enjoyed" was 51 years and seven months.