Sunday, June 21, 2009

VVAW: A Living History...

Ed Note: This piece by our Agent Orange Editor, Rena Kopy, is a prototype for a serial feature, to be carried on the pages of the soon to be awakened on on-line mag. This type of piece dovetails nicely with VetSpeak’s mission of recording and preserving VVAW’s history. We choose to present that perspective from those who lived it, not that of observers and researchers. It is always compelling, but quite often, humorous, as well. Much of VVAWs real story hasn’t been available to folks. The real history of those who really made it happen hasn’t been fully tapped, as of yet; that being the personal and unprecedented history of Veterans organized in struggle with the government over the policies of illegal warfare, and the imperializing of the US Presidency, and foreign policy. Rena and, hope to change all that, and put an “I was there” face on that history.WH

Rena Kopy, Editor
Mirth & Frivolty
(As well as Agent Orange)
My recent rededication to Vietnam Veteran Agent Orange activism has brought about a most unusual phenomenon. In the middle of doing either research, writing or studying, I find myself stopping to gaze into the déjà vu of my memory bank. I do not come up with great moments of what others have credited me with, such as changing laws or the perception or should I say misconceptions of what was at one time the most horrendous image of American heroes. What keeps stopping me to recollect is some of the strangest and even hilarious moments that were accumulated over the years.

In recent dialogues with my fellow activists, like Ward Reilly, Willie Hager and Chuck Palazzo, I have recounted stories of days gone by and experiences that, I guess, were all part of the penning of the “How to Be an Activist for Dummies” handbook. It was decided that I will relate some of those long ago (but obviously not forgotten) excursions to the choppy waters of activism, in the hope that others who read these memories will (since it is probably only activist read anyway) come up with stories of their own to add to this new endeavor.
The memory that started this idea for an interactive column was one that involved one of the very first demonstrations of the original organization that John and I started: A.O.V.N.J. - Agent Orange Victims of New Jersey.

It was a Saturday afternoon in the spring of 1980 that a group of about 35 or 40 of us met outside the main gate of the East Orange VA Hospital in East Orange, New Jersey. We had to do this on weekends, because contrary to the public image of Viet vets, at the time, almost everyone had a paying job they could not take time away from. We were all dressed in our “Sprayed and Betrayed” tee shirts and ready to keep moving, as the law required, across the front of the hospital entrance. We formed an orderly line and began to walk and chant “test and compensate” or “agent orange kills”, etc., back and forth across the street that led into the front gates. After a few minutes, we realized that something was missing and that with all of our planning and organizing no one had been put in charge of the signs, banners and placards!!!!!!!

Since we were a suburban group of vets and vet families from, far away, Monmouth and Ocean counties, no one had any idea where we could get the much needed signs, etc. So, for approximately an hour we marched, back and forth, from one side of the street to the other, yelling out our chants and cadence at the top of our lungs. The only problem was that to the public, we looked like a whole bunch of people who were walking back and forth, trying to decide what side of the street we wanted to be on and YELLING AT EACH OTHER!!!!!

One of the VA security guards, turned out to be a Vietnam vet, a brother, who during his break, got in his car and drove past us, showing us his hand in a “wait” gesture, which we did not understand because we were still trying to look “official”. He came back, slowed down right in the midst of our picket line and quickly handed, out of the driver’s side window, a stack of oak tag and construction paper and a whole bunch of markers. He then drove quickly away so as not to lose his job for collaborating with the enemy. For years, we told the story of the “activist virgins” who lost their cherries on the cement streets of East Orange.

In the mid 80’s, we had organized a demonstration outside the Diamond Shamrock plant in the Ironbound section of Newark, New Jersey. It was a families demonstration and we not only brought our children, decked out in our tees and kids cammies, because, keeping in mind that most of our Jersey membership were suburbanites, we even had a “cabbage patch contingency” of cabbage patch dolls with pitch signs taped to their little hands. The media was waiting for us (as were the “unmarked” FBI agents) but after only about 30 minutes into our demonstration, the media became thinner and the ever-present helicopters left as well. We went on with our demonstration because we figured either that the media got what they needed or they were watching from beyond our sights.

It was a cold day, so my husband John and Buzz Pucillo kept running over to the “well hidden” FBI car with cups of hot coffee. When we got home, the phones started ringing because as all of us flipped on the television news it became evident that the reason the media had left was because the landmark Freehold Racetrack had burned to the ground. Every vets group who knew us flagged their newsletters with a story about how the government was so worried about the mark we were making that they burned down the only trotter’s racetrack in New Jersey to keep us off the radar!

The greatest feat that A.O.V.N.J. ever pulled off was at a St. Patrick’s Day Parade in one of the coastal towns, which, if memory serves me, was Belmar, New Jersey. Our group, in a show of patriotism by the town council was invited to participate in their local parade. We showed up with a long flatbed trailer float, which was decorated with flowerpots on prettily covered podiums, with happy children, vets and their wives all smiling and waving from the moving float. (One minor problem was that someone who probably much later in their career came up with the recent idea of flying Air Force One low over Manhattan, without warning the still shell-shocked residents of lower Manhattan, was that the float behind us was an engine which was manned with what sounded like rifle shots going off, until we explained to them that one more volley of “gun salutes” and we couldn’t promise any flashback safety.)

Everyone was cheering and waving from the spectators’ area, until, we were coming close to the reviewing stand, and, suddenly our float came to a complete stop and a full tarp was drawn over the entire float. Within 2 to 3 minutes, which was a feat of theatrical timing in itself, the tarp came away and the pretty plants were now dead twigs sitting on top of 55 gal. Drums with orange stripes, the women were screaming in horror as they held children lying across their arms in a dead pose, while the vets were wearing Scott paks and gas masks and shooting an orange liquid (food coloring) out of spray bottles at the crowd. That was what went slowly past the mayor and all the other dignitaries sitting, in shock, on the reviewing stand, as spectators ran to get away from the orange spray!!!!! Needless to say, we made the front page of every newspaper in the tri-state area and no one ever asked us to do a float parade again. We certainly taught those people what happens when you burn down a racetrack to deprive us from getting our word out!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

These are just a few of my more colorful memories and we have not even started on Dewey Canyon 81’, but more for another day. As the newly appointed editor of creativity and frivolity, here at, I ask for readers submissions that will also provide me with a defense against mental illness and weird stunts when I go before the big activist judge in the sky. Who knows, maybe we can come up with a book to be read aloud in Congress before any votes are cast to commit to an opportunistic war.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

PTSD: We can all be part of the solution...

Cynthia Orange is Writing a book for the loved ones of people with PTSD

Ed note: Micheal Orange is a member of the Blog Squad, and pens on our pages as Agent Orange, as does his wife Cynthia, nome de plume, VetWrite. Micheal is also the author of Fire in the hole: A Mortarman in Vietnam, a narrative of his own time spent in-country. Micheal sent this e-mail out to myself, and two other friends, asking for us to distribute it as widely as possible, so, here it is; to read, and to, hopefully, act on...WH

Dear Bob, Willie, and Woody:

My wife, Cynthia, is writing a book for the loved ones of people with PTSD that will be released in the spring of 2010, and she would love input. We're hoping that you can distribute this letter to your respective contact lists. Also, please forward this to others like yourselves who have links to other veterans organizations.

The book will weave throughout it anecdotes and examples gathered from trauma survivors and those affected by a loved one’s trauma to illustrate how some families deal with the challenges inherent in this disorder. The focus will be on self-care, and it will also contain advice from mental health professionals and other experts in the field of PTSD.

She's written extensively about PTSD and co-occurring disorders, prevention and recovery (I gave her plenty first-hand learning opportunities over our 36-year marriage). She has developed three questionnaires 1) for trauma survivors, 2) for the loved ones of those who suffer (or suffered) from PTSD, and 3) for experts who work with trauma survivors and/or those who are affected by a loved one's trauma or PTSD.

Those interested in completing or forwarding a questionnaire should respond to Cynthia at:

Thank you.


Michael Orange, VFP member since 1991

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Planning for the Future

By Horace Coleman

The Hugh Thompson Memorial chapter of Veterans for Peace (VFP chapter 91, San Diego) held a southern California regional conference in Oceanside, CA (home of Camp Pendleton) May 29-31. The conference began with a Friday evening barbecue hosted by military mom Dawn O’Brien. Annie and the Vets, long term fund raisers for peace and veterans’ causes, played after dinner.

San Diego chapter president David Wiley made opening remarks. Chapter member Jack Doxey introduced conference panels. The first was” Working with the Media,” conducted by Pat Alviso (MFSO, Orange County, CA) and her husband Jeff Merrick (MFSO and VFP Orange County, CA).

Pat and Jeff are effective and experienced activists, experts at organizing, publicizing and getting media coverage for veterans and pro peace events and issues. They brought handouts and a PowerPoint display full of hints and examples—including video clips—that showed how to plan media events and write and structure press releases. They spoke about the use of talking points, how to attract the media’s attention and who in and when to contact the media.

Pat and Jeff know how to attract and get coverage in print, radio and TV outlets. They also use the Internet and e-mail well. Events that they have sponsored, or been part of, have been covered by local, regional and national media outlets.

After a coffee break, Jan Ruhman, who doesn’t need coffee to speed him up, led a panel on “Veteran Detention and Deportation.” On that panel were Heather Boxeth, a San Diego based lawyer specializing in immigration and criminal defense cases, Luis Alvarez (a veteran facing deportation) and his sister, Angelica Madrigal. Alverez was brought into the country as a two-year-old child. His sister, a naturalized citizen, spoke of the strain on the family, especially their aged mother whose health is failing.

Ruhman put the overall issue, and its scope, in perspective. “Use ‘em and lose ‘em!” occurs all too often with veterans who aren’t naturalized citizens. Paper work that would help their claims for citizenship is never delivered or “lost.” Boxeth gave an overview of the complexity in immigration and criminal law that can easily trip up veterans facing deportation--and any attorneys not intricately aware of the law.

The father / son duo of Tim and Ryan Kahlor spoke of the problems a wounded soldier can have getting injuries treated that the Army couldn’t find and a father’s quest to get Ryan the care he needed.

Tim used to carry around a poster about Ryan, a tanker. Below a picture of him in battle gear was the number of times his tank had been hit by IEDs (6). His injuries were listed. Among them were TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury), a detached retina, arm injuries, an ear that kept draining, partial hearing loss and PTSD. No Purple Heart was awarded, though! Seeing a short video in which Ryan appeared and comparing the skinny and unnaturally pale guy in it with “the thousand yard stare to the strapping young man Ryan is once more was shocking. You were glad he had recovered so well, although recovery is not over.

Ryan became, Iiterally, a poster child. As Tim said, Ryan represented *all* the wounded veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. But, what if they didn’t have a father and mother (or a spouse) as driven as Tim and his wife to insist they got the care they needed?

Ryan recounted how a platoon sergeant had told his squad to downplay any thing that might render them unfit for duty: “We don’t want no pussy stuff. There’s nothing wrong with you that alcohol can’t cure!!” Ironically (fittingly?), that sergeant was dismissed from the Army for alcoholism.

One of the audience members, Lane Anderson, stressed the importance of getting a Medical Discharge under Honorable conditions instead of an Honorable discharge to ease hassles involving treatment and money.

A last minute addition to the conference program were Colin and Karen Archipley. A former Marine Sergeant with 3 tours in Iraq, he and wife Karen run Archi’s Acres.

Started with their own funds, devoted to organic farming and coordinating with Veterans Affairs Compensated Work Therapy, Archi’s Acres teaches veterans organic farming and green house construction.

Located in Valley Center, CA, Archi’s Acres provides a peaceful, low stress environment where vets can decompress, and learn grove management and hydroponic growing, along with product marketing and retailing.

The conference’s closing session on Saturday was facilitated by David Wiley. It was a “Regional Strategy Discussion” covering regional issues and how Southern California VFP chapters could help and support each other. Two ideas that came out of the discussion were supporting IVAW (Iraq Veterans Against the War) supporting and raising awareness about the effects of exposure to depleted uranium.

after dinner, Annie and the Vets played and sang again. Sunday was devoted to hitting the streets of Oceanside to let any Marines encountered know that some people went beyond just saying they “support the troops", to actually doing so.