Agent orange victims tell their stories

Two Nanaimo men have been invited to Vietnam as guest speakers at the International Conference of Victims of Agent Orange.

Two Nanaimo men are heading to Vietnam as guest speakers at the International Conference of Victims of Agent Orange.

Ken Young and Kelly Franklin were both exposed to defoliant chemicals during spraying at Canadian Forces Base Gagetown in New Brunswick.

Agent Orange is a defoliant known for its use to destroy dense forests during the Vietnam War. The mixture contained equal parts of chemicals 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T. During the 1970s, veterans returning from Vietnam began to report skin rashes, cancer, psychological symptoms, birth defects and handicaps in their children, and other health problems.

“My father was posted to Gagetown in 1958 and we lived there until 1964,” said Franklin, 54. “We were there for some of the heaviest spraying of Agent Orange.”

Young, 63, served with the Royal Canadian Regiment at Gagetown in 1972, and said the government had by then switched to spraying Agent White, which contained hexachlorobenzene, another contaminant.

“When you talk about Agent Orange or Agent White, you’re talking about a variety of rainbow chemicals used on the jungle foliage in Vietnam and to destroy food crops,” said Young. “Most victims of rainbow chemicals refer to them as Agent Orange because it is the most infamous.”

Both men are members of the Agent Orange Association of Canada B.C. chapter, and will join victims, social activists and scientists from various countries at the conference Monday and Tuesday (Aug. 8-9) in Hanoi, marking the 50th anniversary of the first spraying of Agent Orange by U.S. forces in Vietnam.

Young hopes the conference allows him to tell his story and leads to an exchange of ideas.

“We just want to compare notes and show a little bit of solidarity between victims,” he said. “Nobody seems to know that somebody else went through something similar. The Vietnamese don’t know what we went through at Gagetown.”

Franklin plans to talk about what he calls a coverup by the producers of Agent Orange.

“Producers of Agent Orange made it their business not to let people know about this poison and side affects like birth defects and ruined immune systems,” he said. “There are people in Ontario who don’t know how much was sprayed on them. To me, that’s a cover up.”

Young and Franklin were also invited to stay a week longer in Vietnam to visit other Agent Orange associations in Ho Chi Minh City and Da Nang.

“Da Nang is considered one of the world’s hot spots for contamination,” said Franklin. “In my opinion, Gagetown would be very close to Da Nang.”

The two hope their trip to Southeast Asia will provide some insight into Canada’s role in the spraying of Agent Orange in Vietnam, as well as its effects on those exposed at Gagetown.

“We are being treated worse by the Canadian government than the U.S. treated the Vietnamese,” said Franklin.