I first met Bill Butler when he was a newly-minted Wharton Business School graduate working for Pfizer Pharmaceuticals in its world headquarters in midtown, Manhattan; I worked for Citibank in its headquarters a few blocks away. Bill was introduced to me by a mutual acquaintance.
This was when the Vietnam War still raged and Bill had been a soldier there before attending business school, so he was a few years older. He hadn’t wanted to sign-up for that idiotic war started by a president who, just like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, ginned it up with a pack of lies perpetrated by fools who never personally had seen combat. Bill even was ready to leave the United States and live in Canada. However, he came from a family that traced its continuous military service back to the Revolutionary War—his father was a retired colonel and his brother would become a four-star general in the Air Force. Both of them, and even his mother, threatened Bill with family excommunication should he refuse to serve.
So he joined and went, tramped through the jungles and was exposed to Agent Orange, a defoliant used to denude those jungles to make it easier for the U.S. military to see and kill the enemy. Today, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control admits those exposed to Agent Orange experience “higher rates of acute/chronic leukemia, Hodgkin’s lymphoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, throat cancer, prostrate cancer, lung cancer, colon cancer, Ischemic heart disease, soft tissue sarcoma and liver cancer.”
During our days together in New York City, Bill never mentioned his service in Vietnam. Instead, he talked about his subsequent posting to Italy where he met and wed his wife, Christina. Sometime not long after this, Bill showed up at my apartment one Saturday morning with two grocery bags full of clothes. He told me he was gay, coming out of the closet and divorcing his wife. And could he stay with me a few days while he got his act together?
“Sure,” I said, “come on in.”
Over the years, I got married, had three kids, and Bill coupled up with a great guy named Mark; all of us, including Bill’s mom, went on many joyful vacations together. Bill even took each of my kids on separate “special” vacations to exotic places they would remember all their lives. For example, he took my daughter Gabby to an island off Japan that—all of it—was a museum of out-of-this-world art.
Then Boom! Bill was diagnosed with one of the Agent Orange cancers. Radiation and Chemotherapy soon followed, and at his final five-year mark, he had a scan to clear him and his future. It did not turn out that way; the cancer had metastasized and about a year ago. Bill wasted away in his NYC condo until death took him.
At the funeral, his brother could not attend because his Agent Orange exposure caused a different wasting disease.
Six months before Bill died, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs finally admitted that Agent Orange was the culprit. As penance, it awarded Bill a monthly stipend.
Which brings me to the conclusion of the Afghanistan War. It too used all kinds of toxic chemicals to achieve today’s equally ignoble ending. And just like with Vietnam, veterans of Afghanistan are experiencing a variety of deadly symptoms. Just like with Vietnam War veterans, the VA has spent decades denying the consequences—even today.
This is the result of incredibly narcissistic and ignorant men in positions of supreme authority exercising inanely futile “nation building.”
And it is America’s Collateral Damage: thank you for your service, sorry we killed you.
Michael is a Laguna Beach resident and principal officer of Laguna Forward PAC.View Our User Comment Policy