‘The Moral High Ground’: U.S. Veterans Blow Whistle on Illegal Burial of Agent Orange in South Korea
American veterans accuse the U.S. military of illegally burying hundreds of drums of Agent Orange, a highly toxic chemical weapon used in the Vietnam War, inside a U.S. base in South Korea.
According to KPHO in Phoenix and South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency, U.S. Army veterans Steve House, Robert Travis and Richard Cramer say at least 250 drums of the cancer-causing defoliant manufactured by Monsanto and Dow Chemical were buried near a heliport inside Camp Carroll in 1978. They claim to have first-hand knowledge of this because they say they participated in the burial.
“We basically buried our garbage in their back yard,” House told KPHO. “It haunts me.”
House says that he dug a ditch “nearly the length of a city block” in which the Agent Orange was buried. “They just told us it was going to be used for disposal,” he said. “Fifty-five gallon drums with bright yellow, some of them bright orange, writing on them. And some of the cans said Province of Vietnam, Compound Orange.”
Robert Travis, who served with House, confirmed his former colleague’s account. “I can tell them what we did with it,” he told KPHO. “There was approximately 250 drums, all OD green. On the barrels it said ‘chemicals type Agent Orange.’ It had a stripe around the barrel dated 1967 for the Republic of Vietnam.”
Travis says he recalls removing the barrels from a warehouse. “This stuff was just seeping though the barrels,” he told KPHO. “There was a smell, I couldn’t even describe it, just sickly sweet.”
A third ex-soldier stationed at Camp Carroll, Richard Cramer, also confirmed House’s and Travis’ stories.
All three former soldiers now suffer from severe, even life-threatening, ailments that they blame on exposure to Agent Orange. House suffers from diabetes and neuropathy, both of which are linked to Agent Orange exposure. “I just recently found out that I am going to have some major surgery,” House told KPHO. “And because my liver is so weak, they don’t think I’m going to make it through.”
Travis told KPHO that shortly after handling the barrels of Agent Orange he broke out in a severe rash. Now he has arthritis in his neck and back. “My wrists and feet, I don’t know how many times they just snap because they’re weak,” he added.
“My foot swelled up basically overnight,” Cramer told KPHO. “I couldn’t walk, and that’s when, basically, my troubles started.” He spent two months in a military hospital. Even today, he has terrible pain. “I have swelling of the ankles and toes. I have chronic arthritis in my back. I get eye infections. It has also affected my hearing.”
This begs the question of how the illegal burial of such a dangerous chemical weapon may be affecting the Koreans who live near Camp Carroll. There is the very real possibility of groundwater contamination.
“If they’re using that water for irrigation, the contaminates could be getting into the food supply, on top of just the drinking water supply,” Arizona State University environmental engineering professor Dr. Peter Fox told KPHO. “The only way to clean that up is to pump the water out and do a pump and treat, which… could take 50 years,” he added.
According to the Yonhap News Agency, the South Korean Environmental Ministry has launched an investigation of the alleged illegal burial. The U.S. Eighth Army is also investigating.
The United States military sprayed more than 13 million gallons of Agent Orange over as many as 4,800,000 people in Vietnam between 1962 and 1971 as it tried to deny the Vietcong the jungle cover they used so effectively to their advantage. The TCDD dioxin and other toxins in the compound cause 15 different types of cancers and other diseases such as diabetes and neuropathy as well as severe birth defects that still plague newborn Vietnamese babies today. Some 50,000 birth defects have been linked to Agent Orange, and 800,000 Vietnamese require constant medical care as a result of America’s chemical warfare campaign.
The U.S. military also admits using Agent Orange in the demilitarized zone that divides North and South Korea.
As for the three American veterans in this story, they just want to come clean and hope their government will do the same.
“I think we were guinea pigs,” Travis told KPHO. “That stuff is still sitting over there. I mean, it’s not going away.”
“If we prove what they did was wrong, they should fess up and clean it up and take care of the people involved,” Cramer added.
“If I’m going to check out,” House said, contemplating his early death, “I want to make sure I’m checking out with a clean slate.”
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