The Long- Forgotten Heroes: Memoirs from the Children of Agent Orange
Most people have declared that the Vietnam War has ended. It never ended for the young vets who sacrificed their lives for a country who abandoned them, who stole their lives and the lives of their children from them forever. Wars are meant to be fought heroically on the battlegrounds as it was in Vietnam, but Vietnam was different. Veterans were never honored. If any soldiers should have been honored, it should have been the Vets of Vietnam. Many cover-ups were made as an excuse to dismiss the claims that many people attributed to Agent Orange. Thirty years after the war, the government still refuses to admit that they have abandoned their own soldiers, the soldiers who were drafted into a war that they neither believed nor conquered. Veterans are still fighting the Vietnam War through the deaths of their own children. Their children have been exposed genetically to the herbicide and now the families of buried children are holding their heavily burdened hearts. The war in Vietnam is not over. The effects of the long-forgotten war have just begun to surface. After seventeen years after the loss of my son, Brendan, my heart still aches for an incident that should never have been allowed to happen. I am writing this book as a memoir to my other sons and to all the children who have lost their brothers and sisters through the Vietnam War. My promise to my son as he lay dying was to publish his story. In his story, Reach for the Stars, I have reenacted his life as it was lived. His story is one of inspiration and courage. He was the only true courageous soldier who marched into victory at the end of his twelve- year journey. My conviction to him has led to, The Forgotten- Heroes Memoirs from the Children of Agent Orange. After many years of fighting many battles, one must decide whether to let it go or to actively resolve the problem. As a citizen, I have learned that I have very little power to change the laws. I have also learned that if I don’t try, I will never know what might have been. And after my son’s senseless death, I will never know what could have been; so, I will continue to change whatever I am able to change. With the help and stories of my own sons and the sons and daughters who have lost their brothers and sisters; perhaps, together we will be able to make a difference to future generations. Our book is not intended for its expertise in writing. It is instead written and unedited by children who have lost their siblings. It is a book written from the heart. It is written in facts, courage and includes the thoughts of disheartened children who are trying to make some sense out of this senseless world. I have tried to keep their stories in their own words, disregarding any errors. There is only one error in this book and it is the error that was made when our government ignored its own soldiers and their families. The children are the real heroes of the war; unfortunately, they too are the victims. Some of these children have fought many of their battles and won with dignity and honor; ultimately, many have died in combat at the end of their mission. My aim is to keep the spirits of these children alive by recognizing their patriotic duty to a country that has forgotten that they ever lived. Part I Skye was the answer to my prayers. I thought about that as I traveled back home into the mountains of North Carolina on the birthday of my son, Brendan. It was a cool day on that October 1st. Skye’s long little curls were swept high into the air although she did not complain of the chill in the air. She reminded me of my son. Her contentedness was evident within her radiant smile and adventurous eyes. She was an explorer, ready to conquer her battles here in this world, much like her uncle, Brendan. As I escorted her to the heart-shaped tombstone, a feeling of bittersweet memories enveloped my being and I felt, still after seventeen years, as though someone had lifted a weight from my burdened shoulders. Seventeen years had passed by me and that sense of confusion still lay buried inside of me. I had never buried my son. Little understanding of such a tragedy of losing a young child can never be understood. In essence, I had left it behind, but it had never left me. Only now did I understand the impact of his living and why he needed to complete his mission in life. Sometimes it is through the eyes of a child that we experience complete understanding. Skye had been my inspiration and that was the reason that Skye would meet her uncle. He would always be my hero and I knew that his existence would never fade. Skye’s little fingers were that of a pianist. Her big brown eyes stood like almonds between her little pug nose. As she battered her eyes, the cool air swayed back and forth so that her long eye lashes seemed to be dancing above her eyes. I noted no dimples, which set her aside from the exact look alike of her uncle, Brendan. I was relieved that she had some other characteristics that set her apart. There were those times though when I stared at her profile and I could see my son as if he had been reborn. I am not certain about reincarnation, but I think that this child is the closest proof that I’ll ever have to verify my own belief in reincarnation. Together, we stood in the front of his heart-shaped tombstone. A colorful Garfield was still filled with life as it lay beneath Brendan’s picture. I told Skye that he was only twelve years old when he died from spinal cancer which we believe was handed down to him from his father who was in Saigon, Vietnam at the Mekong Delta during the Agent Orange exposure. Skye didn’t understand any of this, so I spoke to her about his life. I watched her long tiny fingers touch his picture. “He looks so cute, grandma.” she spoke. “He is my baby for always, but now I have you, too.” I told Skye that it was time for her to know about how he reached the stars. I showed her the back of his tombstone. As she touched his handprints on his stone, I read the words above his hands “Reach For The Stars.” I told her that someday I would publish his book as I had promised him. It was at that point that I began to tell her his story.