Agent Orange: A Lethal Legacy

Agent Orange: A Lethal Legacy

Video series confronts the nightmarish consequences of exposure to the toxic chemical defoliant sprayed by the U.S. during the Vietnam War. (Chicago Tribune)

Vietnamese and Americans who were exposed to Agent Orange and other dioxin-laced defoliants during the Vietnam War are still experiencing devastating health effects, as are their descendants. Children of those affected may have been born with severe deformities or have serious health problems and cancers, some of which are just now manifesting as they age. Tragically, the U.S. government has yet to make full amends, either in the U.S. or overseas.

In this 5-part Chicago Tribune investigative series, reporters interviewed nearly two dozen civilians and former soldiers in Vietnam, researched thousands of pages of documents, and traveled to the homes of veterans in the U.S. to track the consequences. The package contains 12 videos:

• Veteran’s 2 daughters endure toxic inheritance
• Vietnam family grieves 12 kids lost early
• Jack Cooley: Felt betrayed by his government
• Ted Hutches: His daughters’ lives ‘destroyed’?
• James Sprandel: Legs drained of their strength
• Victor Gomez: Afflicted with Parkinson’s disease
• George Claxton: Made dioxin his life’s work
• Hospital lies at heart of birth defect controversy
• Vietnam says millions still feel war’s impact
• Jungles another casualty of spraying missions
• The hazards of dioxin in the environment
• Mother’s heartbreak: Children born deformed

Especially potent is “Mother’s Heartbreak,” about a Vietnamese mother who cares for her few surviving children, who suffer from deformities caused by her and her husband’s exposure to Agent Orange.

Dao Thi Kieu was a teenager during the Vietnam War, and she can still remember the smell of Agent Orange as it was being sprayed by cargo planes while she worked in the rice fields. Her husband was exposed while helping the American army, and died of related diseases. Only two of the Dao’s seven children born in that era survived, and they are severely handicapped, requiring constant care. Their only “normal” child, born later, helps her mother deal with a daily grind of the hard work it takes to maintain their stricken family, and the personal tragedy that frames their lives and those of many people profiled in these videos.

This video and still photo piece stood out for its artful presentation — switching back and forth from black and white to color to reflect the sadness and desperation of their situation — and its thoughtful use of natural sound and narration. “After 40 years of this,” Dao says quietly through an interpreter, “I have no more strength.”

CHANNEL: Chicago Tribune

Length: 3:39

Video by Chris Walker


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