Special Report: Still Fighting

Published: May. 14, 2012 at 6:32 PM EDT|Updated: May. 14, 2012 at 8:00 PM EDT
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(Left to RIght) Wayland Gay, Ed Irby, Ronald Carruthers, and Gene Lastinger
(Left to RIght) Wayland Gay, Ed Irby, Ronald Carruthers, and Gene Lastinger

MOULTRIE, GA (WALB) - In 1962, the United States started spraying Vietnam with a powerful defoliant known as 'Agent Orange.'

Fighting in the Vietnam War ended in 1975, but even today, many veterans of that war are still battling health problems they believe were caused by the chemicals.

'Operation Ranch Hand' dropped 20 million gallons of chemical herbicide and defoliant on Vietnam. These members of Moultrie's VFW served in Vietnam in the mid-60's, and now nearly 40 years later, in their mid-sixties, say those chemicals still affect their lives.

"It's still with you. It's something that stays with you the rest of your life," Ed Irby, an Army Vietnam Veteran 1966-1967, said.

And they admit too often when they are together, one topic of conversation is their common health problems.

"I got bad kidneys. Bad heart," Ronald Carruthers said. Carruthers, an Army Vietnam Veteran in 1969-1970, said they told him Agent Orange had something to do with it.

"I have health problem," Wayland Gay, and Army Vietnam Veteran in 1967-1968 said.  "I have diabetes, been diagnosed and treated for prostrate cancer."

"I got kidney problems and diabetes. They did a biopsy on my kidney and it, the chemical caused the kidneys died basically," Gene Lastinger said.

All the veterans we spoke to say they were exposed to the powerful herbicide. Gay loaded the chemical in planes.

"It was just a plain white barrel, a 55 gallon barrel, and it had an orange stripe down the middle of it. So that's how it got it's name, Agent Orange," Gay said.

"If you was in Vietnam, out in the field, you were exposed to Agent Orange, or to the chemical," Irby said.

"This big old plane would come over and this sticky stuff like on you. You didn't think nothing about it. All we know a couple of days the leaves was gone," Carruthers said.

These men returned home thinking they had escaped the war. "I thought that was the end of it. You know, come back to the states and just pick up where I left off. But it didn't turn out that way," Lastinger, an Army Vietnam Veteran from 1967, said.

No one is sure how many Vietnam War vets are still alive, but some veteran group studies have estimated less than half. The Veteran's Administration says all the disease problems these men face are presumptive to exposure to the dioxin in Agent Orange.

"I think as the Vietnam Veteran gets older it will get worse," Irby said.

"It's kinda scary, when they tell you four more years you might not be here. 2015. Kinda gives you a funny feeling," Carruthers said.

But everyone of the veterans we spoke said they have no regrets.

"Yes I am," Lastinger said. "I'm proud of being a Vietnam Vet. I'm proud of serving my country."

But they also face health problems that they believe they brought back from their service. "Never thought. Never dreamed. Never dreamed," Irby said.

That 40 years later Vietnam would still be threatening their health and their life.

It's estimated that 2.8 million Americans served in country during the Vietnam War. About 58,000 died in service.

Copyright 2012 WALB.  All rights reserved.