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Drums of Agent Orange in Okinawa Cited in Army Report

A recently discovered Pentagon document may confirm what some Vietnam War veterans have been claiming for years—that the U.S. was stockpiling drums of Agent Orange (AO) on Okinawa prior to 1972, during the war, contradicting decades of denial by Washington. If true, the report may help hundreds of former service members stationed on Okinawa get benefits for certain cancers and other health problems deemed to be presumptive diseases associated with exposure to Agent Orange during the war.

The Army report, “An Ecological Assessment of Johnston Atoll,” published in 2003 and discovered in September by independent researcher John Olin, states that in 1972 the U.S. Air Force moved about 25,000 drums of Agent Orange from Okinawa to Johnston Island in the Pacific, according to Asia Times Online. The timeframe covered in the report suggests that the drum removal was part of Operation Red Hat, the U.S. military’s 1969-72 operation to clean up its 12,000-ton store of chemical weapons (including mustard gas and nerve agents VX and sarin) from Okinawa in preparation for the island’s reversion to Japanese control. Many former service members claim that massive amounts of AO were not only kept on the island but also sprayed at Kadena Air Base, spilled in the holds of ships during transport and dumped in the ocean.

The U.S. government, however, has denied that AO was ever in Okinawa.In a November 2004 letter from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard Myers wrote, “records contain no information linking use or storage of Agent Orange or other herbicides in Okinawa.” Department of Veterans Affairs records nonetheless contain hundreds of accounts of Agent Orange exposure in Okinawa during the late 1960s and early ’70s, according to a report in The Japan Times Online.

The United States controlled Okinawa between 1945 and 1972. There is evidence to suggest that ordinary Okinawans, including 50,000 employed by the U.S. military during the Vietnam War, may have also been exposed to AO, according to Asia Times Online. In Okinawa, activists have recently called for a full inquest into Agent Orange contamination there. So far, Tokyo has refused to do any environmental testing.

Ambassador Blasts Unexploded Ordnance in Quang Nam

To herald the Mines Advisory Group’s expansion of its landmine and unexploded ordnance (UXO) clearing into Vietnam’s Quang Nam province, U.S. Ambassador David Shear conducted the first demolition of UXO there on October 12. Many U.S. military bases were located in Quang Nam, which saw heavy fighting during the Vietnam War. In the province of 1.5 million, unexploded ordnance has reportedly killed or injured more than 1,000 people since 2004.

Diary Returned to North Vietnamese Soldier’s Family

When Defense Secretary Leon Panetta visited Vietnam last summer and returned a soldier’s diary to the Vietnamese government (see “News,” December 2012), he did it on one condition: that it would be turned over to the dead soldier’s family. In a September ceremony in Vietnam, Vu Dinh Son was finally given the diary of his father,Vu Dinh Doan, who had left home for the war when Son was just 18 months old.

For more than 40 years, the diary had been in the possession of Vietnam War veteran Robert “Ira” Frazure, who removed it from a dead North Vietnamese soldier while the 7th Marines were policing the battleground following a fight in Quang Ngai province during Operation Indiana.

The diary was featured in a September 2012 episode of the PBS television show History Detectives, in which the show’s investigators solicit assistance from U.S. Defense and State Department officials and the government of Vietnam.

At the ceremony, Vo Dinh Son said his family was deeply moved to receive the diary and that through it they could further understand and have more pride in their father, who had sacrificed his life for national liberation and reunification, according to History Detectives.

Doan’s widow passed away less than a week before Panetta turned the diary over to Vietnamese officials, but Son said she was grateful to learn that the diary had been recovered. For years, the only remembrance Son had of his father was a heavy khaki shirt that had belonged to him. “Whenever the weather was cold, my siblings and I would take turns wearing it until finally it became tattered and simply wore out,” said Son.

Holding his father’s diary, a tearful Son said that before his mother passed away, she had asked him to tell Frazure that although it was late, he had done what should be done, and his deed had helped heal the wounds of the war.

In a short letter to Doan’s family, Frazure said that returning the diary helped to ease his long-term burden, and he expressed his regret at the death of Doan’s widow before the diary’s return.

For a full account of the story, see the History Detectives website at


Originally published in the February 2013 issue of Vietnam. To subscribe, click here.