Hello Foxmen who served during the Vietnam war. It's been a long time since our service there and no matter how much I pissed and moaned about it when I was in, it remains one of the best memories of my life. Some of the best, rowdiest and truest friends I've had in 70 years on the planet. Still in touch with a few via email and an occasional get together.
Like a lot of you when I got out I turned my back on the war and proceeded with my life (honestly some times I wished I stayed in). I didn't talk about my service with new friends or family and more than a few were surprised to find out I am a vet. In some ways I was ashamed of my service in Viet Nam but not of the Fox nor the men I served with. But outside of contact with a few shipmates, I tried to forget about it. A couple of topics have changed my attitude about forgetting about it though. One was a visit to the USS Constitution where I realized you can draw a line from the men who served on her to the men we sailed with and the young sailors I met on her in Boston. It made me proud to be an American Sailor again. A pride too long missing from my life. Not so much in myself as in the Ship I served on and the men I served with. To be part of that is something no one should tarnish,not even oneself. I know some of us could be jerks, myself included at times, but we did it. We stood up when others were feigning high blood pressure, claiming conscientious objection or even leaving the country. Right or wrong, we stood in the gap for our country. We can take it to the grave. We can be proud of that! The other topic that brought my service back into my life, is my health. Over the years since discharge in 01/71 there's been a slow deterioration from high blood pressure in my 20's (didn't have it when I went in) to a triple bypass in my 50's. I chalked it up to working in construction and hard living. However, at some point in my 60's I realized that I had a double handful of maladies that no one in my immediate family has experienced A partial list would include CLL/SLL, Ischemia, COPD, Chronic Kidney Disease, three kinds of Arthritis, peripheral neuropathy, anemia, pre-daibetes, asthma, sleeplessness, occasional night sweats, etc. After an intense period of research over a couple of years I decided that Agent Orange might or more correctly dioxin might be the source of some if not all of my health issues and filed a claim with the VA and after a couple of years they essentially told me I wasn't there. So I'm appealing their decision. Because we were there. The dioxin toxicity is the stuff of science fiction. If you took a regular aspirin and cut it into 470,000 pieces, one piece would be enough to alter your DNA and the DNA of your offspring. Here's the deal though it affects everyone differently. It might give you non-Hodgkins lymphoma and it might give me Ischemia. If you haven't done the homework it's hard to believe. I'd be glad to recommend books, personal testimony, publications, etc to anyone who's interested. My email is posted on the site. Contact me. So why am I writing this long winded diatribe? I may have waited too long to take action. Don't wait any longer to step up and make your voice heard for vets. File a claim, write a letter, join the Blue Water Navy Viet Nam Association, get active in your old age. I'm not complaining about health issues I acquired during my military service. I enlisted. It was war. I'm still here and I've had 70's on the planet. I can still walk and talk and get around. I have friends, dying and dead thanks to their service to this country. I consider myself to be one of the lucky ones. I've got medicare and pay monthly for a Kaiser plan. A lot of our brothers don't have anything or anyone speaking for them, caring for them and that's not right! What I don't appreciate is the VA turning their back on us so called Blue Water Navy vets. I don't know about you but when I enlisted there was only one Navy and we all served in it. Divide and conquer is as old as war. What I don't appreciate is the fact that the VA budget is not a mandatory line item on anyone's budget (domestic or military) when it should be a mandate on the DOD budget that if we're gonna spend billions killing people and lining the pockets of our corporate overlords we should by god have to support disabled Vets with whatever they need especially if their malady is service related. It's called a presumption of exposure for a reason. Very few servicemen can prove their exposure. The IOM said that blue water sailors had the same avenues of exposure to Agent Orange as our in country brothers and sisters plus some they didn't. The Australian Navy (remember the sailors with a refrigerator in their sleeping berth and cold beer in it) found their Blue Water sailors dying with a higher rate of cancers, etc. than the men that served in-country. They gave their Navy vets coverage when they served up to 100 miles at sea. I was in Balboa Naval Hospital in 1967 for an emergency appendectomy. I was in a ward with some seriously messed up marines. Missing arms, legs, eyeballs, colostomy bags, etc.There is no way my service approached the ferocity of theirs.They were young men who laid it all out there for their country. However that does not negate my service and my issues, nor yours. The diseases caused by Agent Orange are disabilities! Do something for VETS. Nobody outside of ourselves and our loved ones seems to care, at least not in the government. Myself, I'm volunteering at a local veterans facility while I still can and i'm talking to anyone who ill listen. I'm going to San Antone, hope to see you there! Tally Ho and Semper Fortis! RM2 Mike Cunningham USS FOX (2/17/1968 - 1/04/1971)