In 1950, President Harry S. Truman authorized the establishment of the United States Advisory Group, Vietnam and dispatched the Army to Vietnam, ostensibly to advise the French Foreign Legion in their campaign to restore Indochina to the French Empire. The moral implications of this should be obvious. Apparently unbeknownst to Washington, however, the French have never willingly accepted anyone’s advice –about anything. So, the crafty Truman added some cash into the mix: The United States would funnel to the French some $10 million in revenues extorted from the American people, if, in return, the French would heed the advice of their American advisors.
By 1953, at a time when 99% of the American people had never heard of Vietnam, the amount of US military aid to the French had climbed to $350 million. In 1954, thousands of North Vietnamese began streaming into what became the Republic of (South) Vietnam. Many of these were refugees who simply did not want to live under an oppressive communist regime, but a large number were Northern agents disguised as refugees. Their mission was to cause as much disruption in South Vietnam as possible —and this they proceeded to do.
The onslaught was so overwhelming that Ngo Dinh Diem’s Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) couldn’t keep up. Senior ARVN officers complained that their troops couldn’t find these insurgents. This wasn’t so much a problem with the ARVN ground troops as it was with cowardly senior officers –men who were corrupt beyond belief.
Of course, the war never went according to the way the eggheads in Washington DC wanted it to go. It was all a terrible misunderstanding, of course. By 1956, the United States was firmly convinced that Ho Chi Minh wanted to seize South Vietnam, which of course he did, and that South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem wanted to defend the South, which of course he didn’t. Ho and Ngo had the same goal of reunifying Vietnam, albeit under their own presidency. After 1960, Diem’s true motivations were part of the US government’s greatest lies by omission to those who served in the Vietnam War after 1965.
Vietnamese officials looking for an excuse to do nothing continued to complain about northern insurgents being able to remain cleverly concealed within the lush tropical vegetation. Stepping to the plate to solve this problem was (then) Vice Admiral Elmo Zumwalt (later to serve as Chief of Naval Operations), who served in a dual-hatted role as Commander, Naval Forces, Vietnam and Chief, Naval Advisory Group, Vietnam. It was Zumwalt who ordered the use of carcinogens (Agent Orange) to defoliate Vietnam —an act that has had dire consequences to thousands of Vietnam veterans, as well as to his own family.
Agent Orange was a powerful mixture of toxic chemicals used by U.S. military forces during the Vietnam War to eliminate forest cover for North Vietnamese and Viet Cong insurgents, as well as crops that might be used to feed them. The U.S. program of defoliation, codenamed Operation Ranch Hand, sprayed more than 19 million gallons of herbicides over nearly five million acres of land in Vietnam from 1968 to 1972. Agent Orange, which contained the chemical dioxin, was the most commonly used of the herbicide mixtures (and the most effective). The results of this use have been the growth of tumors, severe birth defects, rashes, psychological symptoms, and a wide variety of cancers among hapless civilian populations in Vietnam and returning American servicemen and their children.
Exposure to Agent Orange no longer receives as much press attention as it used to, but it has had profound lingering effects as a significant international health issue. Hundreds of thousands of American servicemen have died, or are still suffering, because of Zumwalt’s chemical bomb. More than three million Vietnamese are also affected, including more than 150,000 children who were born with serious defects. When the Vietnamese attempted to sue the US for having used these chemicals, for having caused so much suffering among innocent people, American judges dismissed the case out of hand.
Recently, we’ve lost another fine American. I’ll call him Jack. He answered the call to duty and served with distinction in Vietnam during the late-1960s within the US Army’s II Corps tactical zone. Jack passed away on 10 June 2017; he suffered the effects of Agent Orange for over six years. He’s at peace now, and no doubt his family much relieved that his suffering has come to an end … but here is a man who literally began dying during the time he served in the deep jungles of Vietnam —and whose name will never appear on the Vietnam Wall Memorial.
If this doesn’t seem right, it’s because it isn’t.
 In the former position, Zumwalt commanded all “brown water” naval forces serving in Viet Nam, and in the second position he served as the overall commander’s naval advisor.
 Zumwalt’s son served in Vietnam as a riverine boat commander; after much suffering, he later died from exposure to Agent Orange and his son (Zumwalt’s grandson) was born with severe physical handicaps.