Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019
News 12 at 6 O’Clock/NBC at 7
Agent Orange was one of the biggest scandals of the Vietnam War. (Source: WRDW)
FORT GORDON, GA (WRDW/WAGT) – Almost a decade ago, we uncovered the U.S. Army sprayed Agent Orange at Fort Gordon, exposing soldiers to the dangerous toxin.
We’re also learning others that were never even born yet could have been exposed.
What happened in Vietnam has never been black and white. The war is painted in so many shades of gray, and there's a lot of muddy water.
Then, there are the colors: the lush green jungles, the red bloodshed, and a chemical known as Agent Orange.
We first introduced you to James Cripps almost a decade ago after he became the very first person to prove to the government he was exposed to Agent Orange not in Vietnam -- but in the U.S. at Fort Gordon.
"At the time, I thought I was 6 or 7,000 miles away from Agent Orange,” Cripps said in an interview with News 12 in November of 2010. A map obtained by News 12 through a Freedom of Information Act request proves he wasn't.
The map shows where the government tested agents Blue, Orange, and White in Augusta from January 1967 through December 1969.
Back then, part of Fort Gordon was known as Camp Crockett. It included a replica of a Vietnam Village for training purposes. We recently uncovered video of a training exercise that surfaced with some long-lost News 12 archives. It's training for a bus ambush in Vietnam.
Cripps' ambush came many years later when he got sick because of his exposure to Agent Orange.
Then, he says, he was ambused again.
"My exposure has almost killed my daughter,” Cripps said. “You know, I was trying to figure out where I was going to bury my daughter."
Years after he spoke to us -- alone -- via satellite from Tennessee -- he's doing the same interview with Mandy McCormick.
"I have a rare blood disorder called thrombotic TP,” McCormick said.
McCormick says she had no idea until she was 23 years old.
"And within a week, I almost died,” McCormick said.
In TTP, blood clots form in small blood vessels throughout the body, blocking oxygen to your organs. Doctors had to take out Mandy's blood, get rid of her plasma, and replace it with donor plasma -- a lot of donor plasma.
"I never realized it would take more than 600 people donating blood or plasma just to save just me,” McCormick said.
There is no cure, and, according to several doctors, not a lot of question when it comes to the cause.
"McCormick's condition is a direct result of her exposure to Agent Orange as due to her father's military service,” one doctor wrote.
"Is a direct result of her exposure to Agent Orange,” another doctor said.
"It is distinctly possible that Ms. McCormick's condition is a direct result of her exposure to Agent Orange,” said doctor number 3.
McCormick never thought she’d be sickened by her father’s exposure.
"We didn't know about it back then,” McCormick said. “All the information was classified."
Aside from the map, our I-Team also uncovered documents outlining how a helicopter sprayed a number of chemicals, including Agent Orange, on 98 acres in Fort Gordon's southern tip.
Cripps believes it goes beyond that, though. He says he remembers spraying it on the ground and by lakes.
We also found a picture of soldiers bathing in a stream near Camp Crockett. Could they be exposed? What about their kids and grandkids?
"I have two daughters,” McCormick said. “And I can't imagine either one of them going through that."
It's why she's doing the same interview her father did with us all those years ago. Like her dad, McCormick has applied for benefits through the VA.
“The VA has a form for everything, but they don't have a form for this,” McCormick said.
That's because her dad wasn't exposed in Vietnam. He was exposed in Augusta. She writes "this is the only form available for filing a claim for the child of a veteran exposed to Agent Orange."
The form is dated December 20, 2016. To date McCormick says she's had no response.
We asked Mr. Cripps why he believes his daughter's clain has been ignored? “For the same reason mine was so hard to win, and other veterans have been ignored,” Cripps answered.
Ever since that first interview with us years ago, his story has been helping other veterans. Just this year, we found a claim with the VA, specifically referencing our story in an appeal.
It appeared his claim of Agent Orange exposure had been denied, so our story was part of his evidence. The judge remanded it, meaning it goes back to the VA for review.
"Had it not been for your TV station, WRDW in Augusta, we would not have gotten this far,” Cripps said.
McCormick hopes to take this even further.
"And when something like this can affect up to three generations, then they absolutely have a responsibility to research it, and find out what the effects are in the children and grandchildren of those veterans that are exposed,” McCormick said.
She's doing it for her daughters.
"It is a daily prayer that I don't pass this on to either one of my girls,” McCormick said.
She's also doing it for others who could also have a cloud lingering over their family, generations after they spent time in Vietnam villages -- even if those villages weren't in Vietnam.
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