Spraying Agent Orange over Vietnam

As part of America’s strategy in Vietnam, planes—like the C-123—sprayed liquid defoliant over suspected Viet Cong positions in South Vietnam. That defoliant was often “Agent Orange” (also known as "Herbicide Orange").

What is "Agent Orange?" The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, also known as the VA, provides this definition:

Agent Orange is a blend of tactical herbicides the U.S. military sprayed from 1962 to 1971 ... to remove trees and dense tropical foliage that provided enemy cover.

The mission, to spray the defoliant, was dubbed "Operation Ranch Hand." It covered significant areas in Vietnam.

How much "Agent Orange" was spread throughout Vietnam via "Operation Ranch Hand?" The Department of Veterans Affairs answers that question:

More than 19 million gallons of various “rainbow” herbicide combinations were sprayed, but Agent Orange was the combination the U.S. military used most often. The name “Agent Orange” came from the orange identifying stripe used on the 55-gallon drums in which it was stored.

In the U.S. Air Force photo, at the top of the page, we see four C-123s spraying defoliant in September of 1965. The planes were specially equipped, for these types of missions, and were able to cover a one-thousand-foot-wide swath for each pass they completed over this type of dense vegetation.

In this video, we see the planes in action as they spread Agent Orange over Vietnamese territory.

Many people were significantly injured, or died, as a result of exposure to these defoliant runs.

The VA recognizes that “Agent Orange” exposure caused (and still may be causing) health problems for veterans who served in Vietnam and were exposed to Agent Orange:

VA has recognized certain cancers and other health problems as presumptive diseases associated with exposure to Agent Orange or other herbicides during military service. Veterans and their survivors may be eligible for benefits for these diseases.

What are these diseases? They cover a very long list of ailments:

AL Amyloidosis
A rare disease caused when an abnormal protein, amyloid, enters tissues or organs

Chronic B-cell Leukemias
A type of cancer which affects white blood cells

Chloracne (or similar acneform disease)
A skin condition that occurs soon after exposure to chemicals and looks like common forms of acne seen in teenagers. Under VA's rating regulations, it must be at least 10 percent disabling within one year of exposure to herbicides.

Diabetes Mellitus Type 2
A disease characterized by high blood sugar levels resulting from the body’s inability to respond properly to the hormone insulin

Hodgkin's Disease
A malignant lymphoma (cancer) characterized by progressive enlargement of the lymph nodes, liver, and spleen, and by progressive anemia

Ischemic Heart Disease
A disease characterized by a reduced supply of blood to the heart, that leads to chest pain

Multiple Myeloma
A cancer of plasma cells, a type of white blood cell in bone marrow

Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma
A group of cancers that affect the lymph glands and other lymphatic tissue

Parkinson's Disease
A progressive disorder of the nervous system that affects muscle movement

Peripheral Neuropathy, Early-Onset
A nervous system condition that causes numbness, tingling, and motor weakness. Under VA's rating regulations, it must be at least 10 percent disabling within one year of herbicide exposure.

Porphyria Cutanea Tarda
A disorder characterized by liver dysfunction and by thinning and blistering of the skin in sun-exposed areas. Under VA's rating regulations, it must be at least 10 percent disabling within one year of exposure to herbicides.

Prostate Cancer
Cancer of the prostate; one of the most common cancers among men

Respiratory Cancers (includes lung cancer)

Cancers of the lung, larynx, trachea, and bronchus

Soft Tissue Sarcomas (other than osteosarcoma, chondrosarcoma, Kaposi's sarcoma, or mesothelioma)
A group of different types of cancers in body tissues such as muscle, fat, blood and lymph vessels, and connective tissues.

Click on the image for a full-page view of the C-123s in action.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5183stories and lessons created

Original Release: Feb 17, 2016

Updated Last Revision: Apr 17, 2019

Media Credits

U.S. Air Force photo, online via U.S. National Archives. Public Domain.


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"Spraying Agent Orange over Vietnam" AwesomeStories.com. Feb 17, 2016. Nov 21, 2019.
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