The before and after images are driving 76-year-old Vietnam veteran Cliff Willis to return to Vietnam.
“It was heavy defoliation. Agent Orange (planes) flew over twice and we just wiped it off our skin,” recalled Mr. Willis, pointing out an image from a magazine of U.S. aircraft dropping hundreds of gallons of the herbicide on a stretch of jungle in Vietnam.
The Veterans Administration has since tied cancer and a number of other health problems to the toxic chemical used widely by the military to snuff out enemy positions and cut off their food supply.
“I’ve always wanted to go back,” said Willis who served in his mid-twenties during the war in Vietnam as a “River Rat” aboard a river patrol boat. The Navy man’s service put him in Southeast Asia for different missions in 1965, 1966, 1967 and 1968.
Mr. Willis is a part of a group of almost two dozen Vietnam veterans from East Tennessee headed back to that country for a 10 day guided tour in January 2017. The organizers of that journey are from the not-for-profit Vietnam Veterans of America chapter in Knoxville.
“I take great pride in that I didn’t lose anybody,” said Willis, reflecting on returning to a place where “close calls” and “brushes with death” were part of the daily routine.
A crew from WBIR-TV has been invited along to help document the trip. 10News plans a series of stories leading up to, during and after the return trip to Vietnam for a group of veterans interested in “facing some ghosts.”