Column: A new appreciation for Vietnam veterans

Jack Cruikshank, Staff Reporter

When I recently found myself in the country where so many Americans and natives died, I started to recall the research I did last April.

I attended the National Conference on Undergraduate Research at Eastern Washington University to present my research about the relationship between the United States Congress and the Veterans Affairs.

During that research, I focused on the treatment veterans receive for ailments sustained in Vietnam caused by exposure to herbicides such as the daunting “Agent Orange.”

Agent Orange is a type of herbicidal defoliant, which the U.S. military used as herbicidal warfare during the Vietnam War.

I concluded that it is very difficult for American veterans to procure compensation for such health complications, as it is difficult to prove one was exposed to defoliants at all.

Furthermore, one is generally required to prove the Agent Orange (or the related Agents Blue or White) caused one’s present-day ailments, a task which is often futile.

At the conference, I enjoyed the process of presenting in front of people of all disciplines, and didn’t think about that presentation again until October when I found myself on the plane to Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

The locals don’t seem to know what the name of their city is.

The airport code is still SGN, but everyone seems to refer to the city by the name of the country’s former leader.

That distinction perplexed me, as I thought I was flying to the wrong city more than once.

While I was on the plane, I thought about that Agent Orange project and wondered if I would be able to witness anything related to the “Resistance War Against America.”

However, before we completed our descent into Vietnam’s largest airport, I was enthralled by the man I happened to be sitting next to on the flight. The best way to convey this gentleman’s charisma is through my Facebook post from that night:

“The three most interesting things about the guy I sat next to on my Seoul – Ho Chi Minh City flight: He was a Korean-American from Seattle; It took me 20 minutes to realize he was blind; He spent much of the five-hour flight explaining the philosophic teachings of Donald Trump.”

As an aside, that man did not appear to have made it through security. I’m fairly certain that was related to his insistence he did not need a visa because he had been to the country before and “they will let me in.”

Once in Vietnam, I spent nearly every minute in public trying to avoid the scooters. They are everywhere: roads, sidewalks, buildings, markets, parks, everywhere.

One day, I toured the Cu Chi tunnels and realized I would get stuck and starve to death if I had to live in the tunnels that the Viet Cong used as shelter, housing, and supply routes during bombing campaigns.

The most memorable part of my weekend in Vietnam, however, was their War Remnants Museum, which features American military aircraft, tanks, and other heavy artillery at its gate.

On the top floor of the museum, in a corner exhibit lies the one museum piece I will never forget seeing fetuses deformed as a result of what the Vietnamese claim is poisoning from the chemicals dropped during the Resistance War Against America.

At that moment, I concurrently felt morose, guilty and remorseful. Then I remembered how the United States still requires our own veterans to jump through hoops to receive care for something that killed so many in Vietnam.

Jack Cruikshank  is a senior political science major. He can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].