Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Quest of the Second Generation

Hi Everyone,
I have been invited by Sharon Perry to help with blogs on the website. I thought I'd start out with a little information about me so when you read my posts you can have an idea of where I am coming from. My name is Heather A. Bowser. I am a 38 year old, married Mom with two boys. My oldest is ten and my youngest is five. I am a member of AO legacy. I joined in 2009 because I was looking for other children of Vietnam vets.

Dad in Vietnam

My father, who passed away on March 11th, 1998, was a Vietnam veteran who suffered from undiagnosed post traumatic stress disorder. He was drafted into the army and served at Long Binh 1968-1969. He started out as a fork lift operator and became the company armourer. We are unsure when exactly my father was exposed to AO but shortly after returning from Vietnam he developed hypertension. When he was 38, he had emergency heart bypass surgery. He went on to develop diabetes, have a stroke, then at age 50 he had a massive heart attack and died.

In 1972, I was born two months premature and weighed only 3 lbs and4 ounces. I was born without my right leg below the knee, several of my fingers and my big toe on my left foot. My parents struggled to make sense of what caused so many issues in their daughter. My mother had two miscarriages before me and one between my brother and me. My brother John, was born without birth defects. I guess I am a fighter because I am here today to tell my story and to help others who have been effected by AO.

My parents raised me like any other child
Sharon Perry, the founder of Agent Orange Legacy, introduced me to Masako Sakata, a Japanese filmmaker, who was interested in the story of American Children of Vietnam vets who were also victims of AO. Through Masako, I had the opportunity to travel to Vietnam this past October to meet AO victims there. The victims I met were mostly children, who like the American children, are innocent. The trip was eye opening to me. I was always of the mentality of " take care of Americans and forget the Vietnamese," after all, our Vets are still suffering, we have not been recognized, and it was war. That was until I saw the mass devastation of the AO legacy in Vietnam. More specifically, the third generation of infants in Tu Du hospital in Ho Chi Minh City, the pre-teens at Friendship Village, and the many private homes of second generation victims. I came to realize this struggle is not for this side, or that side, it is for the entire human race. This includes, Aussies, New Zealand Vets, Koreans, folks from Canada, Guam, Laos, Vietnam, and many un-named places where AO was tested or used or stored. My eyes were opened.
Friendship Village, Hanoi Vietnam

I 100% believe our American Veterans need better services, faster due process, and recognition. I believe anyone who served during the Vietnam war stateside or Other, should be considered exposed to AO, unless there was no possible way they were exposed. Anyone who handled equipment that came back from Vietnam, anyone that helped transport AO, load AO, etc. should be presumed exposed, period. No if, and or buts...

As for the offspring of Vietnam veterans, we have been given a very difficult road to walk in life. Our fathers are dying or have died. Many of us grew up with the ravages of post traumatic stress disorder in our family units. Some of us have had parents who divorced, some of us have dealt with alcoholic or drug addicted parents, or even disabled siblings . To top this off, many of us were born with birth defects, serious birth defects, that have no known origin. Some of us have developed serious diseases, and no one will listen to us. Our plight is complicated, but we carry it as gracefully as we can because we have no other choice.

Showing off my new leg last summer
The only choice for us at this time is to start standing up for ourselves the best we can. We have to start fighting because, our mothers, while strong, cannot carry this battle for us forever. They are tired. Their lives have been filled with a bittersweet love. They have been fighting since AO came into their lives, into their spouse, into their children. The ones of us who are healthy enough must stand up and be heard. Nobody, as much as they try, can do this for us. We as a generation, need to rally together, not only for ourselves, but for the others around the world who suffer because of the decision to spray AO. Let's not simply look inward, but let us look to be inclusive of all the innocent victims. Let's set an example for the world to follow. I would love to see a world where when people think of kids with birth defects or illnesses linked to AO they do not automatically think about just Vietnam. Instead, they also think about the kids in America who not only fight for themselves, but for all innocent victims of agent orange.

Heather A. Bowser, L.P.C.C.
Second Generation Victim of Agent Orange

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Very moving to hear about your life and dedication to justice for all Agent Orange victims! I look forward to hearing more.

Merle Ratner
Vietnam Agent Orange Relief & Responsibility Campaign