Local man remembers soldiers in need
By Patrick McArdle
STAFF WRITER | October 14,2013
Patrick McArdle / Staff photo
Garry DuFour, who lives in the Dorset area, saved a number of letters from soldiers who said they had gotten sick after being exposed to radiation during atomic weapons tests or chemical defoliant while serving in Vietnam.
DORSET — A local veteran wants Vermonters to remember that soldiers had to stay vigilant to win support from the federal government for ailments they suffered serving as often unwitting test subjects for the effects of atomic radiation and chemical defoliants.
Garry DuFour, a disabled veteran who served with the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne division from 1968 until 1970, has taken on a number of different occupations in his life, from soldier to writer to actor, but in the 1980s he began to work as an aide for the late Sen. Alan Cranston, D-Calif.
At the time, Cranston was working on legislation that would help soldiers win benefits if they had disabilities related to radiation or the defoliant commonly known as Agent Orange.
DuFour said this gave him a unique opportunity to witness history. While he wasn’t writing legislation, DuFour was helping to gather information.
“They had no medical care because it wasn’t recognized,” he said.
DuFour said he worked with Veterans Administration health care sites to gather stories from soldiers who had been exposed to radiation during the testing of atomic weapons.
In one famous case, known as Operation Redwing, 17 thermonuclear devices were tested in 1956 in the central Pacific Ocean.
DuFour said he once had a letter from a soldier who said he had participated in one of those tests. The letter which DuFour said he’s since lost said the soldier was told to keep his eyes closed and his hands over his eyes but the soldier said he opened his eyes shortly after the blast and could see his bones through the skin of his hands.
Another letter included copies of paperwork that certified the soldier as a participant in Operation Redwing.
Many of the other letters were from soldiers who had health problems because of Agent Orange or other chemicals used in later wars. Agent Orange was a “tactical herbicide” used by the U.S. military in Vietnam to “remove trees and dense tropical foliage that provided enemy cover,” according to the Veterans Administration.
After reading the letters from soldiers whose lives had been harmed and who had insufficient support from the federal government or military, DuFour decided to make copies of what were public records. He said he didn’t have an immediate plan for using the information but thought it was important to have copies.
More recently, he has opened his personal archive, inviting Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., in his capacity as current chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, or others to see the records.
DuFour, who has been retired since 2003, said he’s not working on anything actively that would use the letters for a specific purpose but thought it was important for the public to understand the amount of time and effort it took for the United States to take action on behalf of its soldiers.
The effects of Agent Orange have now been found to be “service-connected” which means that it’s easier for former service members who were exposed to the chemical to get their medical bills paid when they seek treatment.
DuFour said he likes to keep busy and still looks for ways to help veterans like providing them tickets to shows at the Weston Playhouse or speaking with officials at the University of Vermont about programs that would allow veterans to get into the college.