News 12 at 6 o'clock / Thursday, November 18, 2010
AUGUSTA---It's come to symbolize everything that went wrong in Vietnam. Agent Orange is well known for turning jungles from green to brown. And for making a generation of our soldiers sick. But here's something you might not know about Agent Orange. Not only were they using it over there, they were testing it here.
The United States had a problem in Vietnam. Soldiers were fighting an enemy they couldn't see. An enemy taking cover in the dark jungles there. The solution was a toxic chemical so strong it could turn jungle into a wasteland.
Patrick Burke is an Army veteran. He was there.
"We walked through areas throughout Vietnam that were completely destroyed, burnt," Burke told News 12. "They sprayed the area and we were looking for the enemy."
Starting in early 1962, the U.S. sprayed 20 million gallons of the herbicide over millions of acres. Army veteran Lou Krieger saw it too.
"It's barren, it's just nothing there. It just kills everything that's there. It's total kill," Krieger said.
Krieger and Burke saw it for themselves. Now their mission is to spread the word about dioxin, one of the most dangerous chemicals there is. It's the stuff in Agent Orange.
"Agent Orange is a tactical herbicide," Krieger said. "it's not your Round Up, it's not commercial. It's so far above that. It's so powerful."
But Krieger isn't just talking about Vietnam. He's also talking about Augusta. I sat down with Krieger to look at a map of Fort Gordon.
"So aside from testing Agent Orange in this area, soldiers were actually swimming here for recreation?" I asked.
"Yeah, soldiers from the special forces, they would often train--they talk about going through water sheds down here, like going through the rice paddies with full packs on. Training like that," Kreiger explained.
While the military was burning the jungles of Vietnam with dioxin, they were testing the toxic chemicals here in the Unites States. Here, at Fort Gordon. It was the summer of 1967. Krieger would spend a few months training here before heading overseas.
"Why do you think they were testing Agent Orange here?" I asked.
"The climate, the topography fairly represented what we had over in Vietnam," Krieger said.
The Department of Defense calls Agent Orange and similar chemicals "tactical herbicides". News 12 found paperwork proving they were tested here. In Alvin L. Young, Ph.D.'s 2006 report "The History of the US Department of Defense Programs for the Testing, Evaluation, and Storage of Tactical Herbicides", Fort Gordon is listed under "Site 21", along with two other locations.
The report states tactical herbicides were sprayed on duplicate 3 acre plots, 200 by 600 feet, using a helicopter rigged with two 40 gallon tanks. The document shows they sprayed about 475 gallons of herbicides Blue, Orange and White. A toxic rainbow, marked by a color-coded band around the middle of the drums.
"Personally, I wouldn't want to go anywhere back in there," Krieger said. "I rode back there in my truck, and that's the last I'll ever go back there."
It all took place in a remote part of the sprawling Army post, near a place known then as Camp Crockett. Long forgotten Quonset Huts are all gone now. Cement slabs are all that's left. A pine forest has grown up around it.
"The reforestation program, it says here, was instituted in 1970, so they tried to close that up real quick," Krieger said.
Krieger took lots of pictures when he went back in October. He wanted to see it again for himself.
"There was a couple of people fishing. I wouldn't eat any fish out of there," he said.
So why Fort Gordon? We may have more in common with Southeast Asia than you think. Young's report states, "the Georgia site was described as a warm temperate, humid, moderate rainfall climate with deep, well-drained sands in rolling topography. The vegetation type was an oak hickory-pine forest." And veterans who were at Fort Gordon in 1967 say there was even a Vietnamese Village there too.
If the documents aren't proof enough, meet James Cripps.
"Personally speaking, I sprayed a herbicide that I believe to be Agent Orange," Cripps told News 12.
Cripps was a game warden. He says he remembers spraying Agent Orange around some of the lakes at Fort Gordon.
"Along the sides of the roads, along the trails the fishermen used, to the restrooms, picnic areas," Cripps recalled.
Cripps lives in Tennessee now. He also lives with the health effects of his exposure.
"It's the deadliest poison known to man," he said.
Cripps' medical history made history. He's the first person to prove to the government that he was exposed to Agent Orange not in Vietnam, but in America. In Augusta.
"I won the first ever Agent Orange claim in the continental United States," he said.
That brings us back to Lou Krieger. He doesn't believe he was exposed to Agent Orange here. But he wants to make sure you hear the story...and he wants something else too.
"I'd like to get an apology," he said. "I'd like the truth to come out. We deal with it every day, I mean I've got a VA file that's probably a foot thick."
That's Krieger's mission now: to spread the word about Agent Orange and to make sure veterans get the coverage they need.
As for Fort Gordon, News 12 requested documents related to Agent Orange testing here through the Freedom of Information Act. They sent us the map showing where the chemical was tested. They confirm they tested Agent Orange and Blue here in July 1967. And they conclude there are no known problems associated with it.