It was as if we were passing through an alien landscape. On each side of the dirt road, for maybe 75 or 80 yards, trees had become ghostly, wooden skeletons and all green undergrowth was gone.

It was the first time I had witnessed the dramatic results of the chemical, dropped by C-123 planes to deny the enemy cover along roads such as this one, places where ambushes, of the very close kind, were denied.

It was only later on, after I returned home, that I learned about what Agent Orange did, beyond the obvious aims of the defoliant. Of course, I was exposed to the chemical, manufactured by Monsanto, a company with a dark history of developing products that have a propensity for killing things or drastically altering the ordinary processes of nature. We now know that tens of thousands of Vietnam veterans and their children are believed to be suffering from the effects of Agent Orange.

After a long and bitter fight by veterans’ organizations, the Veterans Administration has recognized the connection between Agent Orange and the diseases that have stricken veterans and their children. They include birth defects, infantile tumors, Hodgkin’s disease, respiratory cancers, prostate cancer, spina bifida, diabetes and more. The VA has found an unusually high number of birth defects among children born to Vietnam veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange.

Meanwhile, the people of Vietnam suffer to this day. In September 2017, The New York Times focused on the hell we brought to that country in an article, titled, “The Forgotten Victims of Agent Orange.”

It said: “The history of Agent Orange and its effects on the Vietnamese people, as well as American soldiers, should shame Americans. Fifty years ago, in 1967, the United States sprayed 5.1 million gallons of herbicides with the toxic chemical dioxin across Vietnam, a single-year record for the decade-long campaign to defoliate the countryside. It was done without regard to dioxin’s effect on human beings or its virulent and long afterlife.”

And this: “Vietnamese soldiers, from both sides, with perfectly healthy children before going to fight, came home and sired offspring with deformities and horrific illnesses: Villages repeatedly sprayed have exceptionally high birth-deformity rates; and our own Department of Veterans Affairs now lists 14 illnesses presumed to be related to Agent Orange.”

But how is this for irony? President Trump has nominated a woman who is a former executive at Monsanto, the purveyors of death who dreamed up Agent Orange, to lead the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

According to a report by the Associated Press, Aurelia Skipwith, a biologist and lawyer who spent more than six years at Monsanto and is currently Department of the Interior assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks, is the next person to head up the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Is Skipwith qualified for the job?

There has been some outcry, mostly from environmentalists, including the Center for Biological Diversity. A Senate confirmation of Skipwith “would be a travesty for our nation’s wildlife,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director for the center. “Skipwith will always put the interests of her old boss Monsanto and other polluters ahead of America’s wildlife and help the most anti-environmental administration in history to do even more damage.”

The center went on to say during Skipwith’s tenure, “the Fish and Wildlife Service has repeatedly put the interests of the pesticide industry ahead of imperiled wildlife. In the spring of 2017, the Service scrapped the first nationwide biological reviews that assessed the impacts of pesticides on endangered species. In August, it reversed a 2014 decision prohibiting bee-killing neonicotinoid pesticides and genetically modified pesticide-resistant crops on national wildlife refuges.”

According to Hartl, “Skipwith is utterly unqualified to run the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.”

Also being questioned is Skipwith’s lean biological background and her ties to former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who resigned in disgrace last month under an ethics cloud.

Older Vermonters should be particularly troubled by this news. Mollie Beattie, a Vermonter, was the first woman to head the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In her three years as director, the New York Times reported, “Beattie defended the Endangered Species Act against attacks from many Republicans in Congress and fought efforts to reduce the agency’s budget …”

Beattie, who resided in Grafton, was 49 years old when she died of brain cancer in 1996. She resigned from the agency a few weeks before she died.

A good look at his hair might suggest that Trump could have been affected by Agent Orange, but do not dismay. Our Dear Leader never went to Vietnam, of course, having been given five deferments from serving in the military due to bone spurs in his feet. But there has been some speculation that his deferment was much more serious than that, in that the president had a severe back problem. Some have said that the doctors who examined him determined that Trump had no spine.

In 2004, I wrote a column about how the National Wild Turkey Federation awarded its 2004 Land Stewardship Award to the Monsanto Corp. “for its strong support of the NWTF and its land management efforts on behalf of wild turkeys and other wildlife.”

I wrote that the award by the NWTF to Monsanto was “disgraceful.”

Now, according to the AP, it appears that Ducks Unlimited has fallen under the same kind of inexplicable trance that the NWTF fell under.

“We are pleased to see movement on the nomination of a director for the USFWS … We hope this nomination moves forward quickly,” DU CEO Dale Hall said in a news release.

As if it were under some kind of spell of Dr. Frankenstein, just like the NWTF, DU should be ashamed of its position on this nomination and how it pertains to the dark, sinister history of Monsanto.

Contact Dennis Jensen at

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