Jim Goldsworthy, Columnist
A friend of mine recently had what used to be called “a spell.” This was the second time I’ve seen it happen to him.
He started to wobble and weave, but we were able to catch him and get a chair under him before he went down.
It wasn’t like that the first time, when he collapsed almost gracefully, like a smokestack toppled by demolition experts.
My friend was glassy-eyed and staring, and someone suggested he might be having a stroke. Somebody else went to call 911.
I bent down in front of him, almost nose-to-nose, and started talking to him. He seemed to know I was there, but that was all, so I told him to open his mouth and stick out his tongue.
When he did that, I told him to make it curl up on the sides. That didn’t happen, so I said to move it from side to side. He did that with surprising vigor and no apparent difficulty.
“He’s not having a stroke,” I said, standing up and looking around at our friends.
“It’s the Agent Orange kicking in.”
Their puzzled looks told me they didn’t understand. But I have run across this phenomenon before and knew my friend would be OK. Keep him from falling over, give him room to breathe, don’t fuss over him, and get out of the medics’ way when they show up.
By the time they got him to the hospital, he was alert and ready to come back and join us ... but his wife wouldn’t stand for it. Can’t say that I blame her.
Our paths crossed again a few days later, after I’d heard what led up to the experience.
“Chocolate chip cookies for breakfast?” I asked, one eyebrow hoisted in Mister Spock-like fashion.
“I thought I’d taken my insulin in plenty of time,” he said. “Guess I was wrong.”
My friend is diabetic, but it doesn’t run in his family ... his bloodline family.
It does run in his other family — the family of Vietnam Veterans who were exposed to the defoliant Agent Orange that was sprayed by the millions of gallons to destroy jungle cover that might be used by the North Vietnamese.
I have talked to men who believe they are alive because of Agent Orange. It reduced the number of places where Charlie could hide in order to ambush and kill them.
Countless more have developed Type 2 diabetes, cancer, leukemia and other disabilities because of exposure to Agent Orange.
Their children and grandchildren have suffered birth defects and other terrible ailments, and babies have been stillborn because of what they inherited from a parent or grandparent (our women also went to Vietnam).
“From our base, we could see them spraying Agent Orange,” my friend told me. He was a U.S. Marine. “The river where we got our water was full of it. We drank that water.”
My friends in Chapter 172 of the Vietnam Veterans of America are among those who say that those who were in-country were exposed to Agent Orange and likely will develop Type 2 diabetes or worse — if they haven’t already.
The government claimed for years that Agent Orange was harmless to humans and would have no eventual effect upon them, but that position dissolved as the truth emerged.
Benefits for Agent Orange have been expanded, but there has been reluctance to grant them to the blue-water sailors who may have been exposed to it. The position taken is that no U.S. Navy ships carried it, but men who served on those ships disagree.
“That’s a lie,” said one of my friends. “We carried it on my ship. I saw the containers, we handled them, and we had pictures to prove it.”
Enter my friend, John Bury — Vietnam Veteran of the U.S. Navy and one of those blue-water sailors — who lives in Media, Pa. His letters to the editor have appeared in the Times-News in recent years. (You can read them by calling up our Website, www.times-news.com, and using the search engine for “John Bury Agent Orange.)”
He has been published in about 1,000 newspapers and has friends in high places, including senators, congressmen, state legislators and others in public and private life, one of them a retired admiral.
John also works with Children Of Vietnam Veterans Health Alliance (www.covvha.com), an organization formed to help those families in which the afflictions of Agent Orange have become an inherited condition. It has a Facebook page that offers support groups.
Barring some miracle, Agent Orange is going to kill John. He weeps frequently, not because he is sad, but because of what his condition has done to his eyes. He hopes to live until he has accomplished what he can for his brothers and sisters who suffer as he and his family have.
John tells me that his wife, Cathy, may have borne his pain more than he has, because her pain is compounded by her desire to understand and to care. He’s not the first Vietnam Veteran I’ve heard say that; some have told me they are still alive only because of their wives.
When the Burys came to Cumberland, I took them to visit the VVA Chapter, which has an active Agent Orange effort of its own. John and I already were friends because of e-mail, and he and Cathy and I immediately became friends in real-time.
I introduced John to my buddies by saying, “If there is a more relentless and eloquent spokesman for the victims of Agent Orange than John Bury, I am not aware of it. If legislation is ever passed to help you, it will be in large part because of him.”
They cheered for him, and I lost track of how many men came over to talk to him about their problems. Some hugged him. He listened to them all and told them what he could ... but that’s what he does every day.
I told John that if even one of those men gets some help because of his visit, it will have been more than worth the five-hour drive he and Cathy made to get here. He said he’d already come to the same conclusion.
Legislation is pending to help Agent Orange victims — the men and women who once put their lives in peril to defend us and our cause of freedom. Urge your senators, congressmen and state legislators to act. Our veterans have earned everything we can do for them.
If you or someone you know is suffering because of Agent Orange, know that you are not alone. More people than you may realize are trying their damnedest to help you.
You can reach one at: John J. Bury, 508 S. Middletown Road, Media, Pa. 19063. Phone 610-565-9473. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.