Release Date: August 2, 2021
The Vietnam war ended nearly 50 years ago, but thousands of Vietnam veterans and their families are still fighting illnesses related to Agent Orange exposure. On the 60th anniversary of the first use of Agent Orange in Vietnam, we bring you a couple of personal stories from people whose lives are still marked by the use of this deadly toxin.
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[00:00:00] (HOST) Tuesday, August 10, is the 60th anniversary of the first use of Agent Orange in Vietnam. One of a rainbow of herbicides, Agent Orange was deployed as part of Operation Ranch Hand and effort to defoliate the Vietnamese landscape, robbing the enemy of both cover and food sources. Dioxin, a deadly toxin is a byproduct of producing these herbicides to learn more about the use of Agent Orange and the lingering effects of dioxin on those who were exposed. I talked with Callie Wright, the Director of Education at VVMF.
[00:00:35] (CALLIE) Operation Ranch Hand was part of a larger operation called Operation Trail Dust. And what it was working to do was to defoliate areas so that we could see the enemy on the ground or defoliate areas so that we could better operate. Agent Orange and other chemicals Agent Purple, Agent Pink, Agent Blue, and eventually Agent White. These were used as tools to do that. So, from 1962 until 1971, is when Operation Ranch Hand is, is an action. There are many different types of forests in Vietnam or landscapes. And so, we needed different chemicals to rid of those different forests. There were also, I believe, about 9% was used to eliminate crops, that we believe that the VC that would hurt them. And so, they were used for-
(HOST) By taking away their food source?
(CALLIE) By taking away their food source. There was also a hope by Diem, who’s the president of South Vietnam at the time, that this would encourage people living in certain areas, if we sprayed their, their area, they would leave and go and go to where you know, wherever he had wanted them to move. And so, it was used as a forced migration tool. We also used it though, to create our own basis. So, we would defoliate an area and then build a base on that area. And so that’s really what it was used for. The problem was all of these chemicals, right? As we use them more and more, we needed more. So, we went back to these companies. And we asked them to create more. And as they did, they heated up the process. And when you heat up the process, you create a byproduct, you create dioxin, but nobody is intentionally ever trying to make dioxin. It’s a problem that happens when you are creating these chemicals. And so, when you create these chemicals at these high temperatures you create, the higher the temperature, the more dioxin and you create. And so, we had different companies creating all these chemicals with different levels of dioxin.
[00:02:54] (HOST) How might a service member deployed in Vietnam, what are the different ways they might have been exposed to this?
[00:03:00] (CALLIE) I think it’s important to remember that if we interact with dioxin, and other chemicals today, on the side of those bottles, and on the side of those pieces, it has information that says do not ingest do not, you know, spray this chemical on yourself do not interact with this chemical. And we would never take the bottles that those chemicals come in and reuse them. And we know that because of the information on the side. These were barrels that were sent over. And service members were told that these chemicals are safe. And they just had a stripe, you know, maybe it was an orange stripe or a pink stripe. But there wasn’t a warning. And so, people didn’t take the precautions that were needed, because they didn’t know they weren’t told. And even if they had based, we still we don’t know There hasn’t been enough research done, if, to see if that would have made the difference for a lot of people. And so they were exposed to it everywhere. You know, when it dropped from the trees and it rained on to the ground and it gets into the water system. It stays in a water system, it can state for hundreds of years, you were drinking that water, you were crawling through those rivers, you were eating those animals. And as dioxin passes from the ground to the animal to the human, it increases in, in the chemical content that your body is exposed to. And so that’s really dangerous. Also, when we cleared the spaces to build our base, folks at the base, they were exposed to it that way. Frequently, we didn’t just spray a place once we went back and two and three and maybe even four times sprayed an area. A lot of times people were accidentally sprayed, and these chemicals could cause rashes. There’s a lot of reports of people having rashes immediately, but the long-term damage is also very real. It’s important to note that the people living in those areas as well, were exposed to those chemicals.
[00:05:07] (HOST) We left behind an entire nation of people who were exposed to that and probably are still exposed to that.
[00:05:13] (CALLIE) Many of them, they are still drinking water, they are still eating food that comes from this land. Also, many of them have, have been forced to leave these areas because of the chemicals in them. So, people have been forced from, from their homes, but they’re still consuming food, water, and all kinds of toxic materials. And I spoke before you know, about reusing the barrels. And we didn’t warn people that after you use these barrels, you need to get rid of them. And so, in 1969, they do actually start destroying the barrels. But from 1961 until then, people use the barrels service members use them as tables as barbecues. They, they use them as shower barrels as a variety of things. Also, the people in the country, the civilians, get them and they store gasoline in them, they then put that gasoline through their tractors and through their cars through their motorcycles. When you heat dioxin at that level, it actually just creates a more toxic byproduct. And so therefore, everything’s getting into the air and you’re breathing it in
(HOST) What’s your best guess as to how many service members would have been exposed? I don’t have the exact number.
(CALLIE) I mean, 2.7 million served in Vietnam. But there were certainly people there who were serving before we used it. But I would argue that people who were there serving after because it was in the groundwater and it was in the area would still be exposed. The three ways is through breathing it in, through ingesting it, and through your skin. And you’re interacting in your environment in all those ways. Think about we have people wading through water and through mud. We have brown water Navy groups, going through these areas where we deforest at the sides of rivers, some of them, you know, you brush your teeth at night, and you might that might be the water you use. So, I just don’t see a way that, you know, not everyone was interacting with it.
(HOST) What are some of the ways that that we’ve seen that exposure manifests itself?
(CALLIE) We’re having 19 and 20 year olds exposed, they go home and they have kids. This is a chemical that has an effect on the uterus and on women. And that, that is a proven fact that is not a probable fact, that is that is proven. And so, you know, it does, it does cause birth defects, spina bifida, it’s a birth defect in which a developing baby’s spinal cord fails to develop properly while the baby is in the womb. Treatment helps. But this is not a condition that can be cured. And then also through a litany of diseases that Vietnam veterans might have an experience but because we, we just don’t have enough long-term evidence. You know, I there is all kinds of things that could certainly be a part of that.
[00:08:21] (HOST) In today’s episode, we’ll hear a couple of personal stories from people who are still battling the effects of Agent Orange exposure. Callie talks with Army veteran Ron Worstall, whose daughter suffers from a birth defect resulting from his exposure to Agent Orange.
[00:08:35] (RON) We saw it every day almost and we didn’t think anything of it. Little did we know how much of it may impact us later.
[00:08:43] (HOST) And I’ll share my interview with Diane Parisi whose husband John fought Agent Orange related illness for 20 years.
[00:08:50] (DIANE) We just couldn’t believe it. I can’t believe it now. I can’t believe that anything could kill my husband. It was so strong, you know. And then he wasn’t.
[00:09:07] (HOST) From the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, founders of the wall. This is echoes of the Vietnam War. I’m your host, Michael Crone, bringing you stories of service sacrifice and healing from people who still feel the impact of that conflict. Nearly 50 years later. This is Episode 10, Agent Orange.
(CALLIE) Were you drafted? Did you join and, and where did you serve in Vietnam?
[00:10:03] (RON) Yes, I was drafted. I had been attending college for two years. And didn’t know why, other than to avoid grab the draft. And I talked to my parents, and I said, this is not for me, and I’m wasting your money. I know I’m going to get drafted. Maybe I’ll have a better head on my shoulders when I come back from the military. So, sure enough, within six months, I was drafted, and went through basic training, and then was assigned to infantry training, and had my 30 day leave and off to Vietnam, where I came in as a replacement in the first Infantry Division, and that was my first set or my assignment, and joined the platoon and took off from there.
[00:10:57] (CALLIE) And Ron, you know, we’re here today specifically, to talk about Agent Orange. And I was wondering if you could speak a little bit about anything that you might remember about interacting with herbicides, in Vietnam.
[00:11:14] (RON) We saw it every day, almost. And we didn’t think anything of it, you know, it was something to kill the foliage. So, it was a tool as an aid for us. Little did we know how much of it may impact us later. But it was a good thing as far as we were concerned. I don’t think I was ever sprayed on directly with it. But we certainly were in areas the next day after it had been sprayed, those kind of things. So yeah, it was thought of as a good tool.
[00:11:47] (CALLIE) And were, were there other ways other than, other than the spraying. Were there other ways people might have been interacting with even the barrels or, or just the chemicals in general?
[00:12:00] (RON) Well, yeah, there would be a lot of people that were involved with that. The helicopters were used to spread, airplanes used to spread. They even had land vehicles that traveled around and sprayed it. So, people handled those barrels all the time. I think that’s where Agent Orange came from, it was the color of the barrels. That’s why they call it Agent Orange. They didn’t know anything more about it than that. Yeah, a lot of people were involved inhaling. The thing that I found out is that once it was sprayed, and then the rains came through, and you hit rains almost every day, that Agent Orange was then washed into the soil. And the soil then went into the rivers. And all of our water that we drank in Vietnam was pulled from the rivers. Now the water was purified, so we thought it was good. And of course, it was safe for us to drink from that perspective from bacteria. But no one knew that the chemical Agent Orange would be in there. And that’s why anyone who served in Vietnam, between the dates of when they started using it, were exposed to it. Even the pilots that came in from, say, Thailand or something I get hauling in supplies. They would land, offload their plane, go into the shack and fill out their paperwork, get a drink of water, get back on a plane and fly out. They were exposed.
[00:13:34] (CALLIE) When, when do you remember first hearing that there might have been a problem with Agent Orange?
[00:13:42] (RON) I don’t remember the exact date. I would have to think it was in the 1980s, 90s where talk about the lawsuits and that sort of thing. And it was all pretty vague. And it was so early on very few people were actually impacted by it. And there was a massive settlement of I believe it was like $180 million, which is nothing. And that money was all pretty much soaked up by the, the attorneys those who were involved in the process. I don’t know that any one individual got more than $5,000 from it. And very few of them.
[00:14:28] (CALLIE) When do you remember thinking that Agent Orange might be something that affects your life?
[00:14:37] (RON) When my daughter was born, she was born in ‘74 with a birth defect called Spina Bifida. And at that point, I questioned if it was something due to my, my service connected in some way, not knowing that it was Agent Orange or whatever. And we got involved with a Spina Bifida organization in Pittsburgh, the national organization. And it became apparent that Vietnam veterans who had children after serving in Vietnam, there was a high, higher instance of them having children with Spina Bifida. So that’s when I really first became involved. And then over the years later, I developed diabetes, type two diabetes, and that’s also one of the results of Agent Orange.
(CALLIE) What other ways has this affected your life?
(RON) Guilt, certainly for my daughter. And I think that, that’s probably the most insignificant. I know, I’m more cautious of ailments and things like that, that the ones that I know that are on the list for Agent Orange, should I develop anything like that, then right away, it was sent off a signal that it’s Agent Orange related.
[00:16:07] (CALLIE) Obviously, with type two diabetes, that’s that is a life long condition. But do you feel like you’re still dealing with the effects of Agent Orange in terms of how you interact with the VA or the healthcare system that you use?
[00:16:21] (RON) Yeah, as far as the healthcare goes, via healthcare, it’s, it’s excellent. I’m really very pleased with all the care that I’ve gotten from the VA. The part about the VA that is so difficult is the compensation part. And it’s just like, jumping through hoops. Everyone I talked to says it’s a struggle to get any kind of compensation. And it’s almost like, if they say no enough, you just go away. And I keep telling people just don’t go away. Just keep coming back. Coming back with more information.
[00:17:04] (CALLIE) Knowing what you know, now, Ron, kind of about Agent Orange and about its effects? Or how does that make you feel about your service? Does that, does that change anything?
[00:17:17] (RON) Well, I was very proud of my service. But I certainly believe our government did an injustice to us, all of our veterans who were there and served and were exposed to this. And the companies that developed the Dow Chemical, Monsanto, they had a conspiracy going between them, they, they knew how dangerous this stuff was. But they pretty much kept it to themselves, I guess, when he went to make Agent Orange, so the chemicals that they used, were regular herbicides that like we would use on our lawns today. And when they make them, they’re safe, but the need grew extensively for and I need to make more of it, you’d make it faster. And they found that if they heated it up, they could do it faster. But that’s when the problem started. That’s when the dioxin appeared. It was the heating up of the mechanicals that formed dioxin and dioxin is the bad guy.
[00:18:17] (CALLIE) Ron, what is what is something that that I haven’t asked you about Agent Orange, that you think needs to be said?
[00:18:27] (RON) Well, it seems to be that the secret of Agent Orange is out there. And we need to get that information out to the communities. And the best way to do that, I think would be through the military service organizations, VFW, the Legion, the reunion groups that all the different units have get the word to them so they can get off to their, their children and their grandchildren. And even doctors are so removed from it unless they’re in VA and have an exposure to it when they see it. They don’t really understand it.
[00:19:05] (CALLIE) Ron, one thing that I think is interesting and important for people to know is that you were involved in a documentary specifically related to Agent Orange and Vietnam. Could you share with us a little bit about that?
[00:19:20] (RON) Yes. Back in 68, or I’m sorry. 2008. I was invited to go back to Vietnam with a group that was doing a documentary on Agent Orange. And it was taking on the subject matter of three generations of folks have been impacted by Agent Orange, all starting with veterans. The name of the documentary was A Permanent Mark. And it was produced and directed by Holly million. Holly’s stepfather passed away from one of the agent orange cancers. I was asked to join because second generation I have a daughter that was born in 1974 With a birth defect called spina bifida, the third gentleman was invited. And he was a marine in Vietnam. And he has a granddaughter who has kidney problems related to Agent Orange. So we went back to Vietnam, to show this documentary to show more about the spinal bifida and other ailments. So it was a good trip. And we learned a lot about Vietnam. So when this trip came up to me as an opportunity in 2008, I jumped on it. And I just wanted to see if spina bifida was as prevalent in Vietnam as is here in the US.
(RON) And what did you find out Ron, on your trip to Vietnam?
(CALLIE) We got to see a couple of different locations of some were orphanages were abandoned children are left would have disabilities. And certainly the situation with spina bifida was prevalent there. We also went to a place in North what we call today’s North Vietnam. And it was a very nice facility that cared for children with disabilities. And one of the rooms we went into and children were learning word processing. When we found out after we left the room that they were all about to graduate, they were deaf and dumb. And we didn’t know that at the time. But they were learning a quality skill set that they could leave there and, and provide for themselves and their families very well. We also went into an area where there were children with more severe disabilities. And we saw children that obviously had neural tube defects or something like that, causing their problems with their ability to walk, and that sort of thing. So, it was kind of enlightening.
(CALLIE) Ron, is that is that the last time that you have that you went to Vietnam?
(RON) That is yes. I’ve been asked by people if I would ever go again. And I say no, not necessarily I don’t think so. I’ve accomplished everything I want to do in my three trips. And if there was a real reason for me to go where someone was suffering with PTSD or something like that, or spina bifida children, and they needed someone to go as a mentor and help them get through this, and, and making the trip would make it worthwhile for them. I would probably go again.
[00:22:35] (HOST) Since the Vietnam War ended nearly 50 years ago, 1000s of Vietnam veterans and their families have fought illnesses related to Agent Orange exposure. And yet, most Americans have never heard of it. Well, you can help bring light to the continued suffering caused by Agent Orange by sponsoring an agent orange awareness candle. These candles will light up our Agent Orange Awareness Day at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial site in Washington DC. The observance will take place on August 10, the 60th anniversary of the first use of Agent Orange in Vietnam. To learn more about sponsoring a candle, visit vvmf.org.
[00:23:20] (HOST) This little podcast of ours is really starting to get some traction. By the time you hear this we will have surpassed 5000 listens. We’re so grateful for your support and we hope you’ll consider sharing the podcast with friends and family who might enjoy it as much as you do. Another thing that helps us out tremendously if you leave us a rating or a review wherever you get your podcasts like Apple podcasts or Spotify for example. That little action really helps new listeners find us. In the meantime, you could always let us know what you think by emailing [email protected]. It isn’t easy for everybody to visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington DC. So, VVMF created The Wall That Heals, an exact replica of The Wall, a three quarter scale that travels to communities all across America. The Wall That Heals and the Mobile Education Center that travels with it will be in Clinton Township, Michigan, August 5 through 8 and Riverview, Michigan August 12 through 15. For more 2021 tour dates and locations, visit vvmf.org.
[00:24:42] (DIANE) My husband was a Staff Sergeant John F Parisi. He served the United States Marine Corps from 1965 to 1971. He served in Vietnam from November of 1966 to December of 1960
[00:25:01] (HOST) That’s Diane Parisi talking to me from her home in Saratoga Springs, New York.
[00:25:07] (DIANE) After John graduated in 1965, the recruiter showed up one day, one Sunday morning at his door, and his mother answered the door and she said, “Can I help you?” And he said, “Well, I’m here to take John. He’s being inducted into the Marine Corps today.” And she said, “What?” He never told his parents. And she said, “Well, you wait for me,” and she got dressed. And she went down with them and so that she could be there with them. But his father had served and all his uncle’s, you know, and there was a draft. He didn’t want to wait to be drafted. He, he went in to volunteer to go into the, into the Marine Corps. He signed up himself.
(HOST) Any idea why he chose the Marine Corps? Well, because it’s the Marine Corps. Why else would you choose the Marine Corps? That’s what he wanted.
[00:25:57] (HOST) What do you know about John’s exposure to Agent Orange while he was in Vietnam?
[00:26:03] (DIANE) Well, John was he said he was stationed at the DMZ. I asked him one time I said, Where did you go on your R&R? He said, there was no R&R for me. He said, they sent me to Vietnam, they dropped me off on the DMZ. And 13 months later, they picked me up, said I was only afraid the first month and the last month when he started getting sick when he was 38 years old. We started looking through where the Agent Orange was sprayed, the most concentrated times and whenever and it seemed to be when he was there during the time that he served. That, that’s really all I know about it. I mean, we really tried to look up all the information we could, but the information was really kind of sketchy.
[00:26:49] (HOST) From what you’ve been able to piece together. It sounds like John’s exposure was pretty much daily, and pretty much sustained over a long period of time.
[00:27:00] (DIANE) Exactly, exactly. Certainly all the time he was there.
[00:27:05] (HOST) So, he came back from Vietnam, and probably felt fortunate to have survived that experience. And as far as you know, he wasn’t feeling too bad when he got home because you met a couple of weeks later, and fell in love and got married.
[00:27:18] (DIANE) We did. I met him two weeks after he returned home from Vietnam. And on our third date, he proposed and then 1968 I got engaged, I graduated and got married. And we moved to a little town, Richlands, outside of outside of Camp lagoon. And we stayed there for almost a year. And then he separated from the Marine Corps and had, you know, been part of the reserve for a couple of years. But he really wasn’t really complaining.
(HOST) Physically, he seemed to feel okay, at that time?
(DIANE) He did. And he was a strong person, he was probably the strongest person I ever knew. I mean, my husband had great upper body strength. He went to work for the local market here for the local grocery chain as, as a meat manager for them. So, you know, you’re picking up sides of beef, and you’re putting them on the hook. So, whatever. So, he had a physically demanding job.
[00:28:28] (DIANE) And he was there for three days, but there was no diagnosis. But he had numbness in his chest he had. He said he felt like his knees were on fire. But nobody really, there was no diagnosis that ever came out of it.
[00:28:43] (HOST) And this is, you know, more than 15 years, maybe nearly, nearly 20 years after he got home?
[00:28:49] (DIANE) Exactly, exactly. When you talk to people who have Agent Orange exposure. It lays dormant in their body, and then they near that 40-year mark. And whatever triggers it, it just mushrooms. These guys and I say guys, I mean certainly there were women who served. They didn’t know what the hell hit them. Some of them got sick right away. But most of the people that I talked to, they didn’t get sick till they were in their 40s. And all of a sudden their health is turned upside down.
[00:29:29] (HOST) So, after that initial visit to the hospital that resulted in no diagnosis, how did things unfold from there?
[00:29:36] (DIANE) His health started failing. His, his strength started failing him. He still worked, you know, in the meat department, but there was there was issues with his strength with his legs with the pain that came with it. He had a friend who served with him in Vietnam. And he would see him maybe once or twice a year, they would come visit us the family. And he said to John, you know, I’m in touch with like, eight of the guys that we served with over there. And we’re all 100%. And you’re the only one who hasn’t gone to the VA yet.
[00:30:17] (HOST) When you say we’re all 100% explain what that means for listeners.
[00:30:21] (DIANE) 100% through Agent Orange, they were 100% through Agent Orange.
[00:30:24] (HOST) So, they were receiving 100% benefits for the treatment.
(HOST) And John wasn’t.
[00:30:31] (DIANE) No, because John never went back to the VA after that first time. But then one day, his pain was so bad, that he just, he just could not get his head off the kitchen table. He just was up all night long. And he was just wracked with pain. And he called Joe. And he said, “Hey, buddy, I need you to take me to the VA.” And I will tell you as bad as Joe felt himself physically, he was at our house in 40 minutes, he took my husband to the VA. And you know what, the VA was wonderful to John. I really can’t say anything bad about the medical treatment that he got there. Whatever he needed, they were able to provide for him. The problem was, was getting John’s 100%. It took seven years of paperwork. We had gone through the gentleman at the VA, who was taking care of the comp and pen and whatever, John went for all the X-rays and whatever. They did all the reports, and we get a letter said, Well, yes, this is bad, and you should be 30%. But we’re gonna round it down to 20%. But I got so tired of dealing with that man that we ended up getting our own fax machine. And every time John ended up in the hospital, and his condition got worse, I’d wait a few days, I go down to the release of information office, I get all the paperwork printed out for me, and I’d fill out a new claim, and we would fax it ourselves. And it was seven years of doing that. To get John his 100%. When John died when he died, well, he died at 58 years old. And he only received his benefits for a year and a half. And that half year he was terminal. And then he had an accident. And he had to have a spinal fusion. But his fusion didn’t really heal, right. And he ended up having four spinal fusions.
[00:32:47] (DIANE) And John said without missing a heartbeat, he said, “Well, I was in Vietnam, I was exposed to Agent Orange pretty intensely”. And he said that maybe you ought to go to the VA and see what they’re going to do about this. But I will tell you that when my husband separated from the Marine Corps, the VA, they didn’t want to listen to them. And I think it’s because not enough people worked at the VA who were exposed to this, who knew about this. So, what happened, he was going in for one of his surgeries. And they had to have a routine X-ray to him because he was going to have surgery. And a very new X-ray technician just graduated from college. He found a spot on John’s lung. They sent him right away to the lung doctor, he had a very aggressive form of cancer. That would have killed him in six months had they not found it. So, they went in and they took out half as lung and a lot of just lymph nodes.
(HOST) How old is John at this point?
(DIANE) John was 48 years old. So, this is 10 years after his first visit to the hospital for some unexplained diagnosis. We thought that letter was a lie when they told us that he had the cancer. We just couldn’t believe it. I can’t believe it now. I can’t believe that anything could kill my husband. It was so strong, you know. And then he wasn’t
[00:34:27] (DIANE) A year after his surgery. I ran into the VA to the local VA Rep. That was here in our county. And he said, Oh, Diane, how you doing? How’s John, tell him that there’s a new that there’s a new illness for Agent Orange and he told me what it was. And he said, Well, John doesn’t have lung cancer, does he? And I said well, yes, he had half as long removed last year. So, we put more paperwork in faxed and more stuff. did everything we could do. Because during this time, I will tell you that I was working a full time job, I can’t stay home. He can’t work, can’t walk. He can’t breathe. We would say that he had the whole alphabet. He had the PTSD, he had the COPD, you had to find the humor and how bad it is. Otherwise, you just go crazy. Sigh, just give me a minute here.
(HOST) Of course, Diane.
[00:35:38] (DIANE) And then one day the letter came. Seven years after we started saying that he was 100%. We sat there the night we got the letter. We stayed up all night long. We were drinking tea all night long. We just couldn’t believe it. Because now I could stay home, I could quit my full time job and take care of my husband myself. 24/7. But I will tell you that it wasn’t so much the money that had him have a peace of mind as it was the acknowledgement that Yeah, something was very wrong. And absolutely all this illness and all these pains and all you’re going through and all these nightmares and all this shit in your head. It’s real. And now we’re telling you that we understand. And we’re going to take care of you.
(HOST) You and John had children?
(DIANE) Yes, we have two boys and a girl by time we were we were married five years. We had three children. Yes, sir.
(HOST) Tell me about the three children.
(DIANE) My son John is the oldest. And then there’s my son George, and in our daughter, Denise. And I know that there’s a lot going on with the children of Agent Orange veterans. They they have their own ailments. Can I specifically say it’s related to Agent Orange? I can’t I know that spina bifida is the, the one that’s directly related to it. And, and thankfully, our children did not have that. There’s so many blessings that came our way. Even though John’s health was diminishing, we were able to see our children get married, our grandchildren born. And we’re waiting for our fourth grandchild to be born. Truly, it had blindsided us that his cancer had come back. We had gone on vacation in January. And in one morning in March, I woke up and there was dry blood on his mouth. He had coughed up blood. It was in the scar between his lungs. And it surrounded his heart. And that was March 30. And he died June 10. In those two and a half months, every day, our friends and family would come to this house and tell them how much he touched their lives and how much they loved him. And he was able to say that which was a big stretch for my husband because my husband was happiest when he was by himself when there wasn’t anybody around and he was so gracious and generous to those people, you know. I have to tell you, when John went back to the VA, he got excellent, excellent care. And when he couldn’t go anymore to the VA, the doctor came here his doctor came here to do house calls for him.
[00:38:58] (DIANE) When he, when he asked his doctor, she had done a house call, Dr. Miller, what happens if I take off my oxygen? She said you’re going to die, John. In the next morning, I had to call her and I said John doesn’t want his oxygen on. And she said well, he was asking me for permission last night. She said whatever he wants you to do. You’re going to do it. You’re going to go out and ask him what he wants. Now, I don’t care what you want, Diane, you’re going to do whatever he wants, because we know it’s about him. And I come out and I said tell me what you want. He said you know I’m just tired of being sick and sick for 20 years. I’m just tired of it. I have to tell you, Michael, my husband, he faced Agent Orange. He faced it head on I don’t want to make my husband a martyr and nor am I a martyr for taking care of him. My husband never said, why is this happened to me? Never. He never said look what the government did. He never said anything of that. Never, never, never. He stayed until he just couldn’t stay anymore. He said, I want to dish ice cream, and I want a cigarette. I want my dress blues. And I’m going out with a high and tight. And you know what. He went to sleep the next day and he didn’t wake up for three days. And then he passed in his home, in the sun porch where I’m now sitting that we put on our house 25 years ago. He always used to live in this house and it’s the house that he grew up in. He never wanted to live anywhere else.
[00:41:01] (HOST) What do you want people to know about Big John?
(DIANE) Who he was, was it was enough for all of us here. You know, he was Big John. He was a hard worker. He worked his whole life. He was washing dishes at 13 years old at a diner here. Even when he got out of the service, he was working 2 jobs a couple of years because that’s what you do. He liked to be left alone. But people generally loved my husband. There was also people at our house, always. Coffee was always on, he would hold court like in his garage. I’d come home at night and there’d be one or two cars here because working on cars was his hobby and when he couldn’t do it anymore he taught the boys how to do it. And he loved to fish. He didn’t eat them, he said Vietnam cured him of that. He said, “You haven’t lived until the guy next to you is eating a three day old fish out of his pocket.” He never wanted to eat fish after that. He loved spaghetti. My husband could eat a pound of spaghetti all by himself. As a matter of fact, one of the restaurants here in town created a Big John special because that’s what he ate. He was a, he was a good man. He was not an easy man, he didn’t like everybody. If he didn’t like you, you knew about it. You could just see it in his face. His eyes spoke volumes. He was a good man, you know. He wasn’t for everybody but he definitely was for me. He was my choice and I thank God that on that third date… what are you going to do? You know… I’m done.
[00:42:58] (HOST) If I ever find myself in Saratoga Springs, can I still get the Big John special?
(DIANE) Oh my God, you know what, you probably can. You probably can. And if you can’t, you come here and I’ll make it for you.
(HOST) Alright, well that’s a deal.
(DIANE) Anytime you’re in Saratoga, you come by.
[00:43:21] (HOST) Huge thanks to Diane and Ron for sharing their stories. And to Callie Wright for bringing her energy and passion to this topic. You’ll be hearing a lot more from her in upcoming episodes. We’re glad that you checked out the official podcast from the founders of The Wall in Washington, DC. We publish a new episode every two weeks. So, be sure to subscriber wherever you get your podcasts. Did you know that August is National Dog Month? In our next episode we’ll pay tribute to the four-legged warriors who saved an estimated 10,000 American lives during the Vietnam War. That’s in two weeks, don’t miss it.
Full Interview with Diane Parisi
Full Interview with Ron Worstell
- VVMF Topic Page on Agent Orange – https://www.vvmf.org/topics/Agent-Orange/
- A Permanent Mark: Agent Orange in America and Vietnam (removed from YouTube but synopsis is available) – https://www.makingchangemedia.com/a-permanent-mark
- VVMF Agent Orange Awareness Day – https://vvmf.org/ao-2021
- The Wall That Heals – https://www.vvmf.org/The-Wall-That-Heals/
- Full Interview with Ron Worstell – https://youtu.be/JmomnkIFj4k
- Full Interview with Diane Parisi – https://youtu.be/sRiE39-KlW0
- YouTube Echoes of the Vietnam War Interview playlist – https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLK63b6Cn53unMMj-yZYEch0RuYy1YN1zl