By Max Hrenda
In his two years of service in the Army during the Vietnam War, Carter County native Larry Letterman never set foot in the jungles of Vietnam. His work as a Specialist 5 on the USS Corpus Christi Bay consisted primarily of repairing damaged helicopters, radios, and other military equipment.
But while removed from the battlefield, Larry’s wife, Nancy, revealed that the ship was not far enough away for Larry to avoid one of the most notorious toxins used during the war.
“That’s where he was exposed to Agent Orange,” Nancy said. “The helicopters that would come back in were covered with it.”
Between 1962 and 1971, the U.S. military sprayed almost 20 million gallons of Agent Orange over Vietnam and parts of neighboring Laos and Cambodia.
The goal was to use the toxin to eliminate the foliage Vietnamese guerrilla fighters were using for cover, and also to destroy food sources in outlying villages. But what would ultimately come of the military’s use of Agent Orange was hundreds of thousands of people being poisoned and suffering generational health defects – including American soldiers.
On April 9, 2013, Larry Letterman died after battling colon rectal cancer for several years. While that particular type of cancer is not recognized as being associated with Agent Orange by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Larry’s daughter, Jennifer Holtsclaw, said the family is convinced it is responsible for her father’s health problems.
“We feel very confident that it was caused by Agent Orange,” Jennifer said. “There’s no colon cancer history, there’s nothing on his side of the family.”
Larry was also diagnosed with diabetes in 2000, which is recognized on the DVA’s Agent Orange list. Also, in July of 2013, three months after Larry’s death, the Corpus Christi Bay was placed on the VA’s list of exposed ships.