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Canfield activist’s journey documented

April 26, 2012
By Kathleen Palumbo , Town Crier correspondent

Individually, they have a story to tell. Collectively, generational victims of Agent Orange provide a saga; an epic tale spanning five decades of unnecessary suffering at the hands of a deadly chemical that in its day was deemed harmless to man and environmentally short-lived.

On April 14, seven Agent Orange generational victims from around the United States held a reception and film screening of the documentary, "Living the Silent Spring," by Japanese filmmaker Masako Sakata, a widow of an American Vietnam veteran.

Gathering at the Ohio Naturopathic Wellness Center in Boardman, also present was Goro Nakamura, an award-winning photographer and author, and Kyoren Takamasa, a Japanese reporter, who interviewed the generational victims. Both Nakanura and Takamasa traveled from Japan to record the event.

"Living the Silent Spring" features Heather Bowser, a 39-year-old from Canfield, the daughter of William and Sharon Morris, born with birth defects associated with her father's exposure to Agent Orange, the chemical defoliant which has been linked to illnesses in Vietnam veterans and their children.

Bowser carries on her parents fight to bring recognition to the issue of Agent Orange effects -- a battle that led her to Vietnam and back as part of the documentary as the first American child of a Vietnam veteran affected by Agent Orange to travel to Vietnam to meet others like her.

Two hundred and ten million men served in Vietnam, and according to Bowser, with the 1991 passage of the Agent Orange Act, while some of the health issues with which they suffer and from which countess have died are recognized by the VA as related to their exposure to Dioxin, the VA doesn't recognize children of American soldiers.

Attending the event with his wife Barbara Spencer, Frank Spencer of Boardman, said he served in Vietnam, where he spent eight months in the DMZ. Unaware of the effect of his exposure until he was in his 60's, Spencer shared that his son, daughter, and grandson each harbor effects as second and third generation.

Sharing that he was told that more than 89 percent of the men exposed to Agent Orange have died, "I'm one of the lucky ones," he said.

Also present were Kelly Derricks, Jennifer Loney and her daughter Taylor Murray, all of Philadelphia. Derricks shared that individually, the members had all been involved in other organizations, and as a group of second generation they thought it was a good idea to come together.

Tanya Mack and her daughter Jenna, Miss Teen California, for whom Agent Orange serves as her platform, traveled to the event from California.

While her mother deals with numerous rare cancers that have resulted in more than 300 surgeries, Jenna, who was born healthy, said that as a caregiver, she deals with the emotional side of the effects of Agent Orange.

Today, 28 known hot spots exist in Vietnam, and according to Boswer, there also exists 55 chapters of the Vietnamese Association for Victims of Agent Orange and Dioxin, with entire hospitals devoted to dealing with the effects of Agent Orange. "In Vietnam, they are just beginning to see fourth generation," she said, while the documentary shared that "Dioxin remains in the soil of Vietnam today and the land has yet to recover."

Saying her hope that the documentary bring recognition of a problem to the many people she feels are simply unaware, Bowser said, "This has been a lifelong struggle for me and for my family," adding that the journey to Vietnam was a personal visit meant to bring healing to her family.

Sharing the emotion obvious amongst first-time viewers, "It's a hard subject but a very, very important subject," said Bowser. "One thing I'd like to see people walk away with from this is This is a humanity problem. It's a mankind problem. It's not a this-side or that-side problem."

 
 

 

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