Special Assignment: Agent Orange at Fort Gordon, Part 3

News 12 at 6 o'clock / Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2011

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- You won't find Camp Crockett on any modern maps. And even if you knew where to look, you won't find it at Fort Gordon either.

The soldiers who once trained here and the Quonset Huts are all gone. All that's left are the concrete slabs.

Lou Krieger is a veteran who wants everyone to know what happened in this remote place that also featured a mock-up of a Vietnamese Village for training purposes.

"This is one of the very few pictures outside of Camp Crockett of the Vietnam village," Krieger said.

Krieger said it may have been like Vietnam in more ways than one.

A News 12 investigation uncovered something that may surprise you. While they were using Agent Orange to strip the jungles of Vietnam, they were testing it here.

We obtained a map through the Freedom Of Information Act. It shows where the government tested agents blue, orange and white in Augusta in 1966 and 1967.

We found documents outlining how they used a helicopter to spray the chemicals on 98 acres in the southern tip of the sprawling Army post between Highway 221 on the west and the artillery range to the east.

Krieger worries about the soldiers who trained at Camp Crockett.

"Well, there are a lot of veterans out there, unfortunately, that have been exposed to dioxin unknowingly," he said.

And he showed us a picture. He says these soldiers are bathing in a stream near Camp Crockett in July of 1968.

This is right down from Leitner Lake which is well within a 6 to 8 square mile area where there could have been mist drifts from the dioxins and the herbicides.

But it wasn't just Augusta where they did the testing.

News 12 found documents outlining all of the other places across the nation where The Department of Defense tested these so-called "tactical herbicides" from Florida to Canada and California to New York.

But Augusta stands out from all of the others because of one man -- and what he did here.

His name is James Cripps.

Cripps is the first person to prove that he was exposed to Agent Orange -- not in Vietnam, but in the continental U.S.

"At the time, I thought I was 6 or 7,000 miles away from Agent Orange," Cripps said.

Cripps was a game warden who did some spraying himself.

"Along the sides of the roads, along the trails the fishermen used, to the restrooms, picnic areas."

When we found him last year in Tennessee, he could still remember the lakes by name.

"... Little Bear, Big Bear, Little Smoak, Big Smoak, Leitner, Clay Pit ..." he said.

There's no paper trail from what Cripps did.

The Army will only admit to spraying in the test area. The same map shows where they took soil samples in 1994. The dots mark the spots.

They say the area today is clean.

"Fort Gordon says the area has been tested and its safe. Are you comfortable with that?" asked News 12's Richard Rogers.

"No, I'm not comfortable with the soil samples at all. Number one, you have to take into consideration that right here on this map is an approximate area where they tested," Krieger said.

Dr. Martha Terris is chief of Urology at GHSU and the VA. She's seen case after case of cancer in veterans exposed to Agent Orange.

"And more and more veterans are coming to me saying, 'I never was in Vietnam, but I was asked to spray this stuff ... I don't know what it was- it worries me now that I've come up with this cancer.'"

Dr. Terris says dioxin gets in your body and stays there, changing your DNA.

"That can result in different cancers, different types of disease processes that can occur 20, 30, 40 years later," she said.

Birth defects are also a concern.

"With male veterans exposed to Agent Orange, the predominant birth defect that's seen is spina bifida ... or defects of the spinal canal in their children," Terris said.

Cripps proved his case and has nothing to lose.

"It's the deadliest poison known to man," he said.

Meanwhile, Krieger continues his own mission to spread the word about Agent Orange to shine a spotlight on a remote of Fort Gordon that's been long forgotten and to speak up for veterans too afraid to speak for themselves.

"The stories I get from the veterans, I wish more of them would talk -- but the unfortunate thing is they're afraid that if they talk they're going to lose their benefits or if they apply for benefits they're not going to get their benefits because of the way the V.A. works," he said.

And that's one of the reasons this story is such a difficult one to tell. The soldiers who trained here back then don't want to put their claim in jeopardy.

We asked Fort Gordon to let us see the testing area for ourselves and so far they have declined.

We also asked Fort Gordon to let us speak with their environmental experts about those soil tests back in 1994. Again, they've declined.

Officials at Fort Gordon did release a statement after our initial investigation a year ago. You can read that and find other documents and previous stories in the box to your left.

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