ANDOVER, Conn. (AP) — A Connecticut town has a new monument to veterans exposed to Agent Orange, a project spearheaded by a local veteran who says he was harmed by the Vietnam War-era defoliant.
The new memorial is set to be dedicated Saturday in Andover Veterans Monument Park.
Gerry Wright, 72, got the idea for the monument a few years ago, while traveling around the country to gather signatures on a petition to expand treatment for Agent Orange-related ailments, the Hartford Courant reported Monday. He saw an Agent Orange-related memorial in Texas and decided his Connecticut hometown should have one.
Between 1962 and 1971, the U.S. military sprayed roughly 11 million gallons of Agent Orange across large swaths of southern Vietnam. It contains a dioxin, a type of chemical that stays in the environment for a long time, building up and becoming more dangerous while moving up the food chain.
Vietnam says millions of its citizens, including children of people exposed during the war, have suffered illnesses from Agent Orange. The U.S. government has said the number of people affected is much lower.
The U.S. military halted the use of Agent Orange in 1971. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has since recognized more than a dozen diseases it presumes to be connected with exposure to the chemical.
As a combat engineer in a unit that built roads in Vietnam in 1969-70, Wright sprayed Agent Orange to kill off thick vegetation that could provide cover for the enemy, the Courant said.
“Just doing what I was told — no hat, no shirt, no gloves,” Wright told the newspaper.
Over time, he has developed muscle loss and weakness, neuropathy and atrial fibrillation, said Wright, who also served in the Connecticut National Guard from 1982-99 and retired as a first sergeant.
He ordered a stone inscribed with a message memorializing “all those who died because of this chemical” and asking people to pray for veterans still suffering its effects.
Donations have covered the $21,500 cost, with money left over for plantings, he said.
The toll of Agent Orange is also recognized at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, where a plaque was dedicated in 2004 to honor veterans who died after their war service from the lasting effects of the chemical, post-traumatic stress disorder or other unseen wounds.