Revealed: How Agent Orange Was Stored at the U.S. Military Base on Okinawa
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During the past year and a half, dozens of U.S. veterans have spoken out about the use, storage, and disposal of Agent Orange on Okinawa during the 1960s and 70s. During this period, the island was a major staging point for the U.S. war in Vietnam—where the United States sprayed millions of liters of Agent Orange, poisoning tens of thousands of its own troops and approximately 3 million Vietnamese people. Many former service members stationed on Okinawa claim that they are suffering from similar illnesses due to exposure to the herbicide. However, the U.S. government is only known to have paid compensation to three of these veterans, including a former soldier who was poisoned while handling thousands of barrels of Agent Orange at Naha Port between 1965 and 1967.
Exposing the Truth
There is increasing evidence to suggest that ordinary Okinawans, including the 50,000 employed by the U.S. military during the Vietnam War, were also affected. However, attempts to organize health surveys have been stymied by the authorities. According to Masami Kawamura—cofounder of Okinawa Outreach, the citizens' group at the forefront of demands for a full inquest into Agent Orange use on the island—the Okinawan Prefectural government “claimed that if they ‘investigated blindly’ without identifying locations with ‘high probabilities’ of being contaminated with [Agent Orange], this could just create rumors harmful to the communities.”
Following the discovery of the army report, 10 former service members wrote a letter to the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs demanding a full investigation into the military’s use of Agent Orange on Okinawa. “We have a strong desire to do the right thing for all of the U.S. veterans who were exposed to herbicides/Dioxin on Okinawa as well as for Okinawa,” states the letter, which was organized by former Air Force sergeant Joe Sipala.
Sipala, who believes he was exposed to Agent Orange on the island in 1970, and the nine other veterans have offered to travel to Washington to testify on the issue. The former service members were angered last year when the U.S. government and Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs suggested that the veterans’ accounts of herbicides on Okinawa were dubious.
“That is insulting to the credibility and integrity of the men and women who served honorably, giving up years of our young lives to protect our great country of the United States of America and the island of Okinawa,” says Sipala’s letter.
Sipala said that he hopes the letter will convince the U.S. government to provide compensation to veterans who believe they were exposed to Agent Orange on Okinawa. At the moment, the government provides help to U.S. veterans who were exposed to military herbicides in Vietnam, Thailand, and along the demilitarized zone in Korea. But the Pentagon’s denials about the presence of these herbicides on Okinawa have prevented hundreds of these veterans from receiving aid. Now it would appear those denials are losing currency.
John Olin, the Florida-based researcher who discovered the 2003 army report, says he will keep investigating the military’s use of Agent Orange on Okinawa. “Right now we have two governments—Japan and the U.S.—who were actively working together for many decades to lie to their citizens,” he said. “There is an obvious disinformation campaign on this issue that only makes me want to look closer.”