Kyla P. Mora, Pacific Daily News, January 14, 2017
NEW EYEWITNESS ACCOUNTS HAVE SURFACED SUPPORTING THE CLAIMS OF MSGT. LEROY FOSTER AND VETERAN GERARD LAITRES
New accounts support the statements by Leroy Foster, 68, and Guam resident and veteran Gerard Laitres that Agent Orange was used on Guam — and not only at Andersen Air Force Base, but at Naval Station, Naval Magazine, Naval Communications Station, Naval Air Station, Navy Harbo, and the Marbo housing complexes.
Foster, who lives in Florida, has been reaching out for years to anyone who would listen to his story of personally spraying thousands of gallons of the toxic herbicide Agent Orange at Andersen during his 10-year hitch with the 43rd Supply Squadron Fuels Division.
Foster’s story has been supported by Ralph Stanton, who was stationed at Andersen from March 2, 1969, to March 31, 1970. In notarized testimony submitted to the U.S. Veterans Administration, Stanton described his job with the 43rd Civil Engineering Squadron as liquid fuel systems maintenance and repair.
Stanton and Foster regularly crossed paths at the base, as Stanton performed maintenance on fuel and delivery systems, including the cross-island pipeline Foster was assigned to spray.
Stanton remembered Foster because, he said, “The spray made me sick at my stomach, so I hated to see him coming our way.” Stanton would often try to leave if he saw Foster coming, but would sometimes just step out of the way, cursing, as Foster pulled through with his five-ton truck and 750-gallon tank spray rig.
Foster regularly wore rubber boots to his knees, rubber gloves to his elbows, a rubber apron to his ankles, a clear face shield, and no breathing protection.
The two men reunited online decades later. Since then, Foster has been granted service connection to Agent Orange exposure for his five cancers and numerous auto-immune disorders, but hasn't been granted acknowledgment that he was exposed to Agent Orange on Guam.
According to Stanton and Foster, they have been trying to tell their stories ever since — to WFLA's News Channel 8 in 2017, to StoryCorps in 2015, to The Daily Beast in 2013, to KPRG Public Radio Guam in 2012, to the Daily Kos in 2011, and to Marianas Variety in 2010.
They have petitioned their congressional representatives, offered their stories in support of the failed push to add Guam to expanded Agent Orange coverage in 2009, and formed groups to assist other veterans refused benefits based on exposure on Guam.
A handful of veterans have been granted service connection for ailments the VA acknowledged stemmed from Agent Orange exposure on Guam.
“There’ve been some cases approved on Guam. But the system is, if there were 100 cases proved this morning, you have to prove again that the Agent Orange was there this afternoon,” Foster said. “Somebody else’s case doesn’t have anything else to do with your case.”
That disparity will likely continue, unless Congress chooses to extend acknowledgment of Agent Orange exposure to Guam.
Guam Del. Madeleine Bordallo has supported such bills in the past, but no action has been taken. Bordallo recently requested a briefing regarding Agent Orange use on Guam, and has gained the support of Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Florida.
For Foster, that’s unacceptable. He says he’s not seeking benefits for himself, but for the truth to come out so the residents of Guam know what really happened. He said gaining that acknowledgment will likely be a battle, particularly because the VA has consistently based denial of claims.
“A lot of documentation was destroyed during Typhoon Pamela. There wasn’t a building standing at Andersen after that,” Foster said. “But aside from that, the records center will say there are no records. Well, no kidding, they were routine base maintenance records. They destroyed them after two years. They didn’t have to keep them.”
Since Foster’s most recent interview, more evidence from veterans have surfaced, lending support to the claims of Agent Orange on Guam.
Public Affairs broadcast journalist Joseph McHale worked with Armed Forces Radio at Andersen AFB from Dec. 1972 to Feb. 1974. He often shot photos along the flight line, which required him to roll in the grass to get photo angles. As a result, he said, his “uniforms often became soaked in what smelled like fuel oil that was soaked atop the short grass.”
Out there on the flight line, he saw a man whose name he didn’t know — “a lone guy on a tractor of some kind, pulling some kind of lawn equipment. He was almost always there in daylight hours near the flight line. I now believe it was a guy spraying the grass.”
Veteran Victor Vreeland, 71, served from 1964 to 1995 – nine years active duty in the Air Force, 15 years reserve. From August 1966 to December 1968, he was stationed at Andersen.
Vreeland worked in the fire department and said once the 55-gallon drums Foster described had been mostly emptied of herbicide, they were reused to collect discarded hydraulic fluid and oil from aircraft. The drums were then brought to the fire department's drill pits.
“They’d bring the barrels and leave them there. We’d get them and tip them over, open up the top, and roll them into the drill pits until they glugged out their nasty contents and then roll them out of there,” Vreeland said.
According to Vreeland, the barrels usually had two to three gallons of herbicide still in them, plus the discarded fluids mixed in. Vreeland wore leather gloves and shoes in the pits, and said that his hands and feet would go numb for days at a time.
The dumped fluids were mixed with diesel or jet fuel and then burned, says Vreeland.
Vreeland doesn't remember labels on the drums.
“I can’t say honestly that I saw containers that said ‘Agent Orange.’ I just knew what that stuff was.” He identified it as the herbicide that were used on the vegetation around the perimeter, which “was all dead. It was an orange color.”
USS White Plains
Stephen Edmison didn’t know the name of the compound in the drums either, but he knew what to look for. Edmison’s Navy career, which spanned 1967-1988, included stints on the USS White Plains and USS Proteus. After traveling with the White Plains to Vietnam in 1968-'69, Edmison worked on Guam from 1970-'73, and again in 1977.
The White Plains, a supply ship, ran supplies back and forth between Vietnam and the Philippines. According to Edmison, it also delivered barrels of Agent Orange to Vietnam.
Although the Department of the Navy and Department of Defense denied that tactical herbicides, including Agent Orange, were transported on the White Plains, photographic evidence of barrels of Agent Orange being transported from the ship exists. And multiple veterans who served aboard the ship proved exposure to Agent Orange to the VA. Eventually, the White Plains was added to the “brown water navy” list of ships covered by a blanket acknowledgment of exposure to Agent Orange.
Edmison said he became very familiar with the chemical’s storage barrels, which he describes as very dark blue or black with a big orange band around the middle. So when he worked beach crew at Polaris Point while on Naval Base Guam, he recognized the telltale markings on drums kept in a garage near Trader Andy’s Hut, a favorite bar among Navy personnel.
“In back of the garage, we had two drums with the orange bands. Every two months, they would go spray down the security fence,” Edmison said. “They just had a little rig they took out on a tractor. We had a security fence about 300-400 yards from the ship and it went into the jungle. They’d go spray it, a 6 foot area we’d try to keep clear from the security fence.”
Edmison said he didn't know what the contents of the drums were called; he just knew it was the herbicide he had transported to Vietnam. He didn’t learn the connection until he was diagnosed with prostate cancer.
“First thing they asked me was, ‘Have you seen any drums like this in your career?’ and they showed me a picture,” Edmison said. “I said, oh, yeah, we hauled them to Vietnam, and we had two of them in the garage to keep the jungle off the fence. I know what those are.”
In written testimony submitted to Congress in Nov. 2009, Edward Jackson described his duties while stationed temporarily at Andersen from Nov. 1972 to May 1973. A bus and truck driver assigned to the 43rd transportation squadron, Jackson was occasionally tasked to drive a truck transporting 55-gallon drums of alleged Agent Orange.
“We were told these chemicals were herbicide, and included (Agent Orange), among some of the other ‘Agent Rainbow’ herbicides (Agents White, Blue, Purple, etc.). These herbicides were stored in the open on ramps on Andersen AFB. These drums of herbicides were used by the Civil Engineering Squadron to spray weeds and brush on the ramps, taxiways, revetments, runways, and other areas of Andersen AFB.”
Jackson testified the herbicides also were sprayed at Naval Magazine, Naval Communications Station, Naval Air Station, Navy Harbor and around his own barracks area at the Marbo complex.
Jackson stated his job occasionally included disposing of leaky barrels of Agent Orange. Drums with minor leaks were returned to Navy Harbor and loaded onto Navy ships for disposal at sea. Drums with major leaks were “determined to be dangerous to transport through the civilian areas of Guam between Andersen AFB and the Navy Base. So we would take these drums to an area called Northwest Field on Andersen AFB."
Jackson would then back his truck up to the edge of a small cliff, from which he could see the ocean, and from which he estimated a 20- to 30-foot straight drop. “Just about anything you can imagine to be in a dump was in this huge pile, including drums of chemicals and AO that had been thrown over before I had done it.”
Jackson and others would “manhandle” the drums off the truck and over the cliff. He testified to doing this four to five times, dropping a total of approximately 20 to 25 drums.
Jackson said he didn’t think about the dumping for years after. Upon retirement, he was granted 10-percent service connected disability for arm numbness due to nerve damage. In May 2007, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma. There was no family history of cancer, Jackson said.
Although he was granted a “non-service connected” disability, Jackson remained convinced that his Hodgkin’s was caused by exposure to Agent Orange. He submitted his testimony in support of including Guam in a proposed expansion of presumed Agent Orange exposure.
“Apparently there are some 188 veterans from all of the military services, who served in Guam, in a situation like I have,” Jackson wrote in 2009. “I do not see this as fair treatment for our veterans.”