My name is Jim Purtell. I’m a Vietnam combat veteran, having served as a medic with the 198th Infantry in Chu Lai from February 1968 to 1969.
While I was in country, I can’t honestly say I ever actually saw planes spraying the chemicals. All I can state with certainty is that I was very surprised to see areas we had regularly patrolled — dense, green areas of foliage — seemingly turn brown overnight.
We were informally told that the areas had been sprayed to kill the foliage so the enemy couldn’t hide. That was the extent of the conversation. At no time were we told this chemical was Agent Orange. We didn’t know Agent Orange existed during the year I was in Vietnam; it was not in our, nor the nation’s, vocabulary.
In the late 1970s, while I was living in Salisbury, Maryland, I heard some rumblings about a chemical that was used in Vietnam called Agent Orange. A local veterans’ service officer encouraged me to go to the Veterans Administration Hospital and get an extensive physical. I recall asking a nurse why I was being given this extensive examination, and she said because it was suspected that Agent Orange, a chemical used in Vietnam, was a carcinogen.
Soon thereafter, the VA started sending me and fellow Vietnam veterans some literature. It listed the possible health hazards associated with Agent Orange exposure, and there were many. I knew that I and my comrades had been exposed to the chemicals because we slept in those dense, green areas that were sprayed. We often filled our canteens from the surrounding rice paddies, and we breathed the air. Agent Orange permeated our environment, and we didn't even know it.
In early 2011, I got involved in a project with Al Torsiello, a fellow Vietnam veteran with whom I served. Together with songwriter Ricki E. Bellos, we composed a music CD about our experiences in Vietnam. "Vietnam: There and Back" was released in May of 2012.
A few months after we released the CD, I wondered whether we had left anything out. It occurred to me that we hadn't written about Agent Orange, most likely because we were focused on writing about our experiences in 1968, and Agent Orange was an unknown entity then ... at least to us.
It was important to me to remedy the omission, so I suggested to Ricki that we tackle a song about Agent Orange. I sent a melody to her in August of 2012, with a very specific approach in mind. I felt we should address not only the impact the exposure had on us as young soldiers, but the impact it had on all of the Vietnamese people and their environment as well. Ricki did a terrific job of capturing the story with her lyrics, and the song, “Dear Agent Orange” was created.
Shortly after the song was produced by Jim Hendrick (with guitar by Gary Shaw and vocals by Dave Collaton), I knew we had a very good song. I contacted my sister Colleen Miller, with whom I have done other music videos, and Jim Hendrick and I secured their buy-in to do a “Dear Agent Orange” music video.
Colleen and I researched Agent Orange and viewed several videos, photos and stories about it. We secured permission from many photojournalists to use their work, and we are grateful for their participation. We would also like to thank the people at the Vietnam Archive at Texas Tech University, Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) and notable activists in the field, including Marjorie Cohn and Merle Ratner, who assisted us on background.
Another aspect of this project was to help the people we were writing about. We wanted to help right the wrong that our government did to the Vietnamese people by raising money to help them. I suggested offering the "Dear Agent Orange" song as a digital download for a minimal donation of $1. The reasoning was that people would be likely to contribute if they knew that 100% of the proceeds would be directed to a highly reputable and effective organization. Ricki E. Bellos joined me in donating her royalties for the song and also asked to help financially support the creation of this website.
I contacted attorney and Agent Orange activist Marjorie Cohn and asked her to recommend the right organization for our cause. She pointed us to VAVA (The Vietnam Association for the Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin).
Ms. Cohn introduced me by email to Mr. Nguyen Minh Y, a former Vietnam War soldier and a VAVA board member. This was my first contact ever with a Vietnamese soldier or citizen since 1969, and it was an enlightening experience. Perhaps someday we’ll meet. We began a correspondence and have made arrangements for all proceeds from song downloads to go directly to VAVA. The money will go to build day care centers and charitable housing as well as scholarships and job grants.
It should be noted that in addition to American soldiers and the Vietnamese people, allies of the U. S., including the Hmong, and soldiers from New Zealand, Australia, South Korea and Canada were also exposed to the effects of Agent Orange.
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There are too many people to individually thank for this video, but I must mention Colleen Miller, who immersed herself in and lived with this subject until she connected with it emotionally. Colleen selected the individual frames that you see in this video, and she spent countless hours researching and thinking about the best way to artistically and effectively tell this story.
I also want to thank Jim Hendrick for his technical and creative expertise in the editing and production of the song and video.
Lastly, I want to thank my songwriting partner Ricki E. Bellos (whose husband Bill served in Vietnam), for writing the descriptive lyrics and contributing equally to the cost of creating this website.
Personally, I believe we have the responsibility to do everything in our power to right this wrong. I hope you'll find it in your conscience to donate whatever you can to help.
With sincere thanks,