In the summer of 1962, Vietnam was on the minds of almost all high school graduates and prospective employers.
My dream job at the time was to become an accountant with the railroad. I had been turned down for employment just because of Vietnam. While I had held a variety of jobs, including foreman in a roofing company, construction was not what I wanted to do. So, I took a temporary job bussing tables at a local restaurant In Huntington, WV, my home town and the place where I grew up. Several weeks later I joined the Navy on 30 August 1962. During discussion with the recruiter I requested a good school as part of my contract. Which school was a matter of discussion at some future date but I thought I wanted to be a Yeoman. As it turned out, selection as a Communications Technician was going to be the best thing to happen to this young and innocent graduate who was from a poor family. I arrived in Pensacola, FL in April 1963. After learning Morse code, I was placed in Class 01T with a graduation in October. My first duty station assignment was going to be the U. S. Navy Communications Station, NSG Department Guam, Marianas Island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Sounded exciting! Not knowing it at the time, this was going to be a memory of a lifetime. I had a cousin who was married to an Air Force Sargent who also received orders to Andersen AFB, I arrived in November and he in December. During the 15 months in Guam we worked and played. During our off time we were on our motorcycles, on the beach, in the water, at natural water falls, and streams in the jungle. During my off time, I practically lived at Andersen AFB. Slept in a real bed in a real house. That was a treat compared to the open dorm where I lived. Home cooked meals from time to time didn’t hurt either. Many wonderful memories, still today, of what I thought was an Island Paradise.
My second tour of duty was at the Naval Communications Station, Washington, D.C., located at Cheltenham, Maryland. Our son, Chris, was born in July 1966, and we reenlisted for the Naval Security Group Activity, Sabana Seca, Puerto Rico arriving there in November 1966. We lived in San Patricio, 12 miles from the base for one year. We had a miscarriage in 1968 but Karen was born healthy in July 1969. I was a Petty Officer First Class and at the end of the year, received orders for school back in Pensacola, FL.
From School I wanted one of our major operations, I lobbied for and requested the Naval Security Group Activity at Kamiseya, Japan. On arriving the Division Chief told me operations were closing in one month. As it turns out, some portion was staying open for six months and I managed to hold on until April 1971. We lived in Yokahoma, Japan and were able to take advantage of local shopping, sightseeing and dining. After some negotiation I received orders back to Guam. This was exciting, my family would be able to see paradise. Bought another motor cycle, off to the jungles, the water falls, the beaches and good times. As luck would have it, part of operations closed, I was excessed and received orders to NSGA Ft. Meade, MD.
During this time, Government money was tight, promotions were slim and new transfers were at a standstill. I was given a very demanding job, full of responsibility adding to the knowledge I already had. This is important because it led to me getting the most important job of my career. We spent five years here, bought a house and settled in to working and family life until February 1977 when we received orders to the Naval Security Group Activity, Misawa, Japan. Later the Commanding Officer would explain that he was in charge of the “largest Naval Security Group in the world”. 56 Division was a new operation for the NSG, operations started on 1 March 1977. We had about 60 personnel, including seven First Class Petty Officers, one of whom would be selected as the Collection Chief. Included in this number were 13 Marines, 24 Air Force operators and one DOD civilian. Each candidate for Collection Chief was interviewed. I was honored to have been selected for this assignment, it propelled me to Chief Petty Officer. To this point in my life, music was a passion. I was introduced to being a Disc Jockey, took the challenge and was able to be part of local entertainment, weddings and picnics, even performed in the three clubs on base. Another exciting time. Getting closer to retirement, once again I lobbied for orders to Ft Meade, Md. Luckily, I succeeded and went to work for my old boss, a civilian and one of the best supervisors I have ever had. Shortly after my arrival I was promoted to Senior Chief Petty Officer and selected for new and exciting position doing equipment procurements, deployments, testing and training. This job required travel to contractor and overseas locations. When I decided to retire from the Navy, my boss asked me to stay on and keep this job.
Since May 2004 I have been retired. Travel, visit, moved to Florida and living life. On 7 October 2018 my life was interrupted with the following post to one of my FB pages: “Just wondering…….Does anyone else have Diabetes type II (with no family history of it)), hyper tension, Heart Disease, Vitamin D Depletion……or, other health issues……identified by Andersen AFB veterans from the defoliation and, water consumption from the NCS/Andersen water supply shared between Andersen and NSG?”
I did a quick search but really didn’t come up with much. So, I responded to that individual, that I had two tours on Guam and was interested. He introduced me to MSGT Leroy Foster but I didn’t get to speak with him, he passed before I had the opportunity. The reason I was interested is because I had prostate cancer. I was treated with 42 rounds of radiation and currently in remission. I have diabetes and I am insulin dependent. Steve Andrews. WFLA, Channel 8, Tampa, FL did some stories about Foster but I had not seen them or simply did not pay any attention to them. These reports are all on line.
The next thing I read was a news article from RNZ Pacific / Guam – “Thousands of liters of Agent Orange sprayed at Guam – US veteran” 6 January 2017. I was in tears; my island paradise had just been destroyed.
Foster said he sprayed Agent Orange all over Guam, he died of cancers and autoimmune illnesses that he said were the result of his spraying and handling Agent Orange.
On 24 November 2018 I met with Mr. Brian Moyer, a former Marine who served on the USS Proteus in Guam. He is the CEO of the FB page Agent Orange Survivors of Guam. Brian and I discussed these issues for over four hours. These discussions convinced me that, Something Happened in Guam. Since my meeting with Brian, I have read and researched this subject almost full time. I have made it my mission to share this information with as many people as possible.
Ample information is on the net, google several iterations of Agent Orange in Guam. I don’t know if Agent Orange was used in Guam, but something happened, people are sick. Here is what I can share with you today:
- There are 13 approved Board of Veterans’ Appeals Citations for Guam Veterans Exposed to Herbicides. 1336976, 1409977, 1506583, 1535642, 1541192,1547770, 1608644, 1647562, 0527748, 1215200, 1311032, 1328764, 0117418 and one for Lonnie Kilpatrick dated 04/17/2018, he died one month later.
- S. Navy PWC, Guam Ground water Annual Analysis report dated 16 Nov 83 Nav Cams Well A – Analysis, Line 18. 2,4-D <0.05 PPM and Line 19. Silvex <0.21 PPMNav Cams Well B – Analysis, Line 18. 2,4-D <0.05 PPM and Line 19 Silvex <0.21 PPM
- Guam Waterworks Authority Water Quality Report 1996-1997 for Ground Water and Surface Water – This report lists several chemicals in the water analysis. Included are:
Picloram, 2,4-D, 2,4,5TP Silvex and 2,3,7,8-TCDD (Dioxin). Should note here that the chemical makeup of Agent Orange is 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T and TCDD (Dioxin). TCDD, the most toxic of its type found as a manufacturing defect. Merriam-Webster definition of Silvex is a toxic selective herbicide used in controlling woody plants.
- Dow Chemical Investor Risk Report – Page 47 – April 2004 Agent Orange Concerns Beyond U.S. Vietnam Veterans discusses Agent Orange exposure of soldiers stationed on Guam “who handled Agent Orange” have become ill and symptoms of “TCDD (dioxin) poisoning are apparent in the general population of the island as well.” “Agent Orange handling has been measured at up to 1900 PPM in some areas of Andersen Air Force Base on Guam”. Given that safe levels of TCDD have been placed at below 1 PPB by the EPA…implies an extraordinary level of contamination.” I lived part-time on Andersen AFB, I had relatives there, I played there, I went on the flight line as a guest, I went to the beach and I shopped there with my family.
- Base Realignment and Closure IV (1995 Commission) Narrative summary – “Installation of a granular activated carbon system has been completed to treat trichloro-ethylenes (TCEs) at the only drinking water production well on the property.” This implies TCEs in the well water before, I visited the Naval Air Station many times, I had friends there, I drank the water, I swam in the pool and I took my family there.
- The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, Medicine in 1991 was tasked to study Veterans and Agent Orange. The most recent report Update 11 (2018) provides a window into the illnesses caused by herbicides exposure. This issue includes Hypertension as one of these illnesses. Each update is on line to be explored.
- The VA has published a list of 14 illnesses that qualify for presumptive exposure to Agent Orange. This list is on line. Today, Blue Water Sailors and veterans who served on Guam do not qualify. Veterans organizations are working to change that. Two bills are in Congress during 2018, neither one of them made it to the Presidents desk. HR 299 Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2017 and HR 809 Fighting for Orange-Stricken Territories in the Eastern Region Act. These will be brought to congress again in 2019.
- And lastly, GAO Report November 2018 – AGENT ORANGE Actions Needed to Improve Accuracy and Communication on Testing and Storage Locations. This repot says records are incomplete. They reviewed records for 12.1 out of 13.9 million gallons of Agent Orange shipped. They reviewed records for 152 of 158 shipments. Ships stopped at various ports along the way to Southeast Asia, “including at least one vessel carrying Agent Orange that stopped at Guam.” No one knows if cargo was taken off this ship. It seems that some amount of product is unaccounted for.
Andersen Air Force Base is so polluted, it is listed as one of the SUPERFUND sites as of 14 October 1992. Two of the major concerns are Dioxins and TCEs.
A report by Congressional Research Service, Dated 27 August 2018, states millions of tax payer’s dollars are being spent to clean up Bien Hoa, Phu Cat and Danang airport. “A lesser amount of the appropriated funds have been used by USAID for assistance to Vietnam’s persons with disabilities…” “One study of Danang airbase found soil concentrations of up to 365 parts per billion – 365 times the international maximum level of 1.0 PPB.” Compared to Andersen AFB at 1900 PPM – which one should be cleaned up first?
On 2 December 2002 The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry released a report of sampling of fish by the Navy revealed that fish in the area of Orote, Guam Landfill contained PCBs, dioxins, metals, and pesticides.
These documents are but just a small sampling of what is available. This is a complicated subject, largely due to time, memory and money. More can be done to seek fair treatment and justice for veterans. No attempt, to my knowledge, has been made to interview the crew or captains of the ships stopping in Guam. No attempt has been made to interview Commanding Officers of shore installations and sworn statements by veterans have largely been ignored.
I do not know if my illnesses were caused by chemical exposure, I do not know if my child was aborted because of MY chemical exposure. Based on official documentation, it is true that Guam is laden with chemicals, including Dioxin. All I ask is that all of us seek the truth, then tell the truth.
Senior Chief Paul E. Rickman, USN (Retired)