Martin C. Evans

Archive for March, 2010|Monthly archive page

Agent Orange Compensation Gets Easier

In Uncategorized on March 30, 2010 at 1:56 pm

Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki announced pending new rules that would add three diseases to the list of maladies for which veterans would be compensated without having to prove the disease was service connected.

Once the new rules are put into effect, the VA will assume that Vietnam veterans with B-cell leukemias, Parkinson’s disease or ischemic heart disease are eligible for compensation because of exposure to dioxin, a highly-toxic residue present in Agent Orange and other herbicides used in Vietnam.

The rule change is expected to benefit as many as 200,000 Vietnam veterans, including many of the estimated 75,000 Vietnam vets living on Long Island.

Agent Orange contains TCDD, a long-lived polychlorinated dioxin that is considered among the most toxic man-made chemicals ever produced, according to the National Academies of Science. That particular dioxin is associated with cancers, skin disorders, immune system problems, reproductive abnormalities, birth defects and other maladies.

Similar herbicides used in the spraying campaign had even higher concentrations of TCDD, including Agent Purple and Agent Pink.

In all, some 19 million gallons of defoliants were released during a nine-year spraying campaign that ended in 1971.

Although the change is not set, VA officials say veterans with these three diseases should file for compensation immediately so they can get benefits from the date of application once the rule becomes final.

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Finally, A Day for Vietnam Vets

In Uncategorized on March 27, 2010 at 5:10 pm

Hugh Reyes, of Uniondale, listened as names of NY Vietnam War dead were read aloud. (Newsday photo)

Hugh Reyes spent six months as an infantryman in Vietnam in 1966. The Uniondale resident has spent much of the rest of his life feeling his service there was mostly misunderstood or forgotten.

Yesterday, Reyes and hundreds of fellow Vietnam veterans converged at a chilly Vietnam Memorial Plaza in downtown Manhattan to mark what organizers said was the first public celebration of Vietnam Veterans Day in New York. In 2008, Gov. David Paterson signed a bill designating each March 29 – the anniversary of the 1973 withdrawal of U.S. troops from Saigon – in honor of the 3 million Americans who served in Southeast Asia during our nation’s longest war.

“To me this is important for the camaraderie,” said Reyes, 66, a retired New York City policeman. “We were forgotten about for so many years.”

Yesterday’s commemoration included a reading of the names of the 1,741 service members from New York City who were killed during the Vietnam War, as well as the 88 city residents who have been killed in Iraq or Afghanistan, plus the names of many Long Islanders who served.

Organizers said momentum for creating an observance specifically for Vietnam veterans has built since 1985, when veterans marched from Brooklyn to the site of the current memorial wall to mark the 10th anniversary of the war’s end.

More than 58,000 U.S. troops were killed and 304,000 were wounded during the war, which left America emotionally battered and economically drained.

GIs who returned often were rejected by an American populous that was tired of war and frustrated by defeat. Many also battled internal demons brought on by their witness of the savagery of war.

Reyes said after returning from Vietnam, he slept in his shoes for more than a year, unable to shake the fear that he would need to flee attack. He avoided family picnics because parks reminded him of Vietnam’s battlefields.

He said one of the most difficult things for him to cope with emotionally is knowing he had been involved in the deaths of children caught between insurgents and U.S. troops.

“We would hear women and children screaming in a village we were taking, and by the time we were finished with the village, everything would be quiet,” said Reyes, who said it was more than 40 years before he sought psychological help, in part because he feared he would lose his police officer’s job if his superiors knew of his treatment. “I stopped trying to talk to people about it years ago.”

John Rezin, 63, a former Navy sailor living in West Babylon, came to the afternoon ceremony in part to honor Robert Packard, 20, a childhood friend from Queens who was killed during the war.

He stood near the memorial’s smokey green glass wall, at the edge of a crowd of graying men, and listened as bagpipes played a mournful tune.

“These guys on the wall are true heroes,” he said. “They’ll never be forgotten.”

Don’t ask, Don’t tell? Don’t laugh.

In Uncategorized on March 26, 2010 at 11:17 pm

Anti-gay attitudes that have characterized the U.S. military may be changing among younger GIs.

How would you feel about sharing a motel room with a business colleague if you knew your colleague were gay?

Marine Commandant General James Conway apparently believes it would give most Marines the creeps.

Conway says if the prohibition against gays serving openly in the military is dropped, he would move toward eliminating the current practice of barracking unmarried Marines two to a room.

“We want to continue [two-person rooms], but I would not ask our Marines to live with someone who is homosexual if we can possibly avoid it,” the Commandant said in an interview published by the website Military.com.

But some current and former military leaders say segregating gay and straight troops could undermine the military cohesion Conway says he is trying to preserve.

According to the Palm Center, a University of California, Santa Barbara social research institute, retired Marine General Carl Mundy, one of Conway’s predecessors as Commandant of the U.S Marine Corps, opposes openly gay service. But Mundy has said that if repeal is going to happen, “The last thing you even want to think about is creating separate facilities or separate groups or separate meeting places or having four kinds of showers — one of straight women, lesbians, straight men and gay men. That would be absolutely disastrous in the armed forces. It would destroy any sense of cohesion or teamwork or good order and discipline.”

Conway’s comments come as controversy continues to roil efforts by President Barack Obama to end the current “don’t ask – don’t tell” policy that allows gays to serve in the military only if they do not openly acknowledge their sexual orientation.

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs on Friday urged the Army’s Pacific Commander to consider resigning after the Commander, Lt. Gen. Benjamin Mixon, urged servicemembers and civilians to write letters to Congress opposing repeal of don’t ask don’t tell. Mixon made his views known in a March 8 letter to the editor published in “Stars and Stripes.”

The Commandant’s feelings notwithstanding, attitudes may be shifting toward greater acceptance of gay colleagues by military personnel.

A poll released two weeks ago by the Vet Voice Foundation found that more than seven in ten Iraq and Afghanistan veterans say it would be acceptable to them personally if gays served openly in the military. The poll said younger personnel are more likely to indicate acceptance than older GIs, who by a small margin oppose allowing gays to serve openly.

On Friday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced new rules making it more difficult to dismiss gays from the service should their orientation become known. The new rules include moving the power to oust service members for “being out” from the level of colonels and captains to flag and general officers only. Gates also barred the use of hearsay evidence, or confidential statements a service member may make to a clergy, doctor or therapist, in ouster proceedings.

Although the Pentagon chief has shown a determination to implement Obama’s promise to make the military more tolerant of gay personnel, only Congress has the power to repeal Don’t Ask-Don’t Tell.

Last Vietnam War pilot retires from NY Guard

In Uncategorized on March 26, 2010 at 10:57 am

The New York National Guard lost its last remaining Vietnam War helicopter jockey, when Chief Warrant Officer Herb A. Dargue, the grandson of one of the U.S. military’s first pilots, retired today.

Here is what I wrote in today’s Newsday.

Chief Warrant Officer Herb A. Dargue represents the end of the line, both for the New York Army National Guard and for the Dargue family itself.

The veteran helicopter pilot, a hale man of 62 whose retirement Friday ends a military career that began in the 1960s, is the last Vietnam War pilot still flying for the New York Guard.

The Brookhaven resident is also the last pilot in a family whose aviation roots reach to the dawn of military flight.

CW4 Herbert A. Dargue, at the 3-142 Assault Helicopter Battalion Headquarters Ronkonkoma. (Charles Eckert photo)

“I’m very proud of my grandfather,” said Dargue, who flies Blackhawks with the Guard’s 3rd Battalion, 142nd Aviation unit, based in Ronkonkoma. “He was at the very beginning of military flight.”

His grandfather, Maj. Gen. Herbert A. Dargue, flew two-seat biplanes during General Pershing’s 1916 pursuit of Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa. Two years earlier, he was the first pilot to use a radio in flight.

CWO Dargue’s career as a helicopter pilot began with the muscular enthusiasm of youth 43 years ago in Vietnam, a 20-year-old Army airman dodging death at the controls of a multimillion-dollar aircraft. Dargue does not want it to end with a whimper – a retirement party, handshakes from colleagues, a final goodbye.

“I’m looking for a job,” said Dargue, of Brookhaven, whose last flight with the Guard is scheduled for this morning. “Flying is in my blood.”

Flying is also amply represented on his resume.

Other pilots express astonishment at his more than 20,000 hours at the controls.

After flying combat missions in the Mekong Delta, Dargue left the Army in 1969 to work as a helicopter pilot, ferrying traffic reporters above Washington, D.C., for a capital radio station. Later he provided helicopter training for the Iranian military, from 1977 to 1979 when the overthrow of the shah forced Dargue to flee. He joined the Guard in 1980 while keeping his day job as a corporate pilot based in New York. But in 2005, Dargue found himself again in a combat zone, when his unit was deployed to Iraq.

An amazing career

“I don’t know anyone with 20,000 hours in helicopters,” said Richard Schmitt, of Danbury, Conn., who flew corporate choppers for 40 years, before retiring in 1999. “It represents an amazing career in helicopters. I probably have 1,700 or 2,000 hours, which is very respectable in military aviation.”

Schmitt, 67, who also flew helicopters in Dargue’s Guard unit, described Dargue as a low-key professional whose experience has steeled fellow Guardsmen.

“He’s not a flash dancer, so to speak – he’s rock-steady Herb,” Schmitt said. “I think the example that he sets rubs off on others – keeping your head and doing the job with very little fanfare.”

His calm demeanor probably saved his life on at least four occasions, when he went down while flying helicopters whose power quit.

Each time, he coolly used the helicopter’s own downward momentum to power the rotor and steer himself to safety, including once when he had to weave between buildings to set down in a Long Island City parking lot.

“He’s an aviator’s aviator,” said Keshner, 66, of Great Neck, who flew up from his Florida winter home to attend Dargue’s Champagne-doused send-off Friday. “He’s the end of an era for all the Vietnam guys.”

Commack Marine the 11th LI GI Killed in Afghanistan

In Uncategorized on March 24, 2010 at 6:38 pm

The body of LCpl. Justin J. Wilson arrived at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, late Wednesday

A 2004 graduate of Commack High School, who joined the U.S. Marines last year, was killed in an ambush in southern Afghanistan Monday when an improvised explosive device detonated near him.

The Marine, Justin Wilson, who was promoted to Lance Corporal only this month, had lived in Commack until two years ago, when his parents, Lance and Frances, moved to Palm City, Fla.

Wilson is the 11th GI from Long Island to perish in combat in Afghanistan, according to a Newsday count.

His father told the Palm Beach Post he last spoke to his son on St. Patrick’s Day, when Justin turned 24.

“He was a little afraid. I could hear it in his voice,” the 53-year-old Wilson said. “He didn’t want to talk about what was going on there. He wanted to talk about his wife, the family. He wanted to know what was going at home.”

Wilson, a member of the 3rd Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, based at Camp Lejeune, N.C., was on patrol in Helmand Province when he was killed.

Wilson’s uncle, Nassau Police Det. Sgt. Robert Galgano, was among family members who went to the military mortuary at Dover, Del., to receive Wilson’s remains.

“He was gung-ho, proud to be a part of the service,” Galgano said. “He had grown up a lot in the Marines.”

Wilson was deployed to Afghanistan last November, having married a Florida woman, Hanna McVeigh, only days earlier.

Galgano said Wilson briefly attended college after graduating from high school before taking various jobs around Long Island, including loading trucks at a FedEx warehouse in Farmingdale. Influenced by his father, a neon sign maker, Wilson amused himself by creating graffiti-styled artworks.

But Wilson felt that odd jobs were leading him nowhere, Galgano said, and Wilson joined the Marines at a Florida recruiting station. He attended boot camp at Parris Island, S.C., overlapping there with a cousin, Lance Cpl. Carl Ruggiero, whose family moved from Port Jefferson to North Carolina about 10 years ago.

“I’ve always looked up to him like an older brother,” Ruggiero said by telephone from Camp Lejeune.

In addition to his parents and wife, Justin Wilson has younger siblings: a brother, Christopher and a sister, Jaime-Ella.

Galgano said Wilson’s family plans to have a wake and funeral services in Florida, but that no date has been set.

Wilson’s Facebook page can be found here.

Wilson’s tour of duty in Afghanistan had only
six weeks to go.

But fate placed him in the path of a deadly bomb.

———
Editor’s note: An earlier photograph posted here identified as Lance Cpl. Justin Wilson, which had been published in the Palm Beach Post, depicted another lance corporal by the same name.

War’s price tag

In Uncategorized on March 22, 2010 at 1:46 pm

With the war in Iraq having passed the seven year mark last week, some may wonder what it has cost the U.S. treasury?

The answer?

$747.3 billion, according to the National Priorities Project, a fiscal watchdog group.

Combined with the ongoing war with Afghanistan, the U.S. has spent more than $1 trillion on combat since 2001.

How much is a trillion dollars? Well, if you spent a million dollars EVERY DAY since the year Jesus was said to have been born, you would still have more than $250 BILLION to spend, or a quarter of what you started with.

Or put another way, we have spent enough money to run the entire state university systems in both New York (64 colleges) and California for about 40 years.

Jailed LI Soldier Gets New Hearing

In Uncategorized on March 19, 2010 at 12:57 pm

An Army spokesman said an 82nd Airborne Division commander will decide next week when to schedule a hearing to investigate whether jurors acted improperly in convicting a Rocky Point, NY sergeant of manslaughter.

Pvt. Justin Boyle was convicted in October of choking to death PFC Luke Brown, of Fredericksburg, Va. during a July, 2008 struggle.

After the trial, a fellow soldier wrote to Boyle’s mother, saying an Army Major who had served on the jury told him that other jurors had carried “an agenda” into the courtroom, and had ignored some of the judge’s instructions.

Boyle, a decorated former sergeant who has served three tours in Iraq and another in Afghanistan, is seeking a new trial.

During his trial, defense lawyers had argued that Boyle was only trying to subdue the soldier, who was violently intoxicated and had refused to return to base after a night of heavy drinking at a bar near Ft. Bragg.

His sentence stripped Boyle of his sergeant’s rank, sent him to prison for two years, and will end his career with a bad conduct discharge when he is prison time is up.

Irish Army Reinforces “Fighting 69th” Marchers

In Uncategorized on March 18, 2010 at 12:55 pm

Members of the "Fighting 69th"

New York’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade had a particularly authentic addition Wednesday, when soldiers from the Irish Defense Force joined members of the New York Army National Guard’s “Fighting 69th” in the annual march up Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue.

Wednesday’s parade marked the first official military unit of the Irish Defence Forces to march in America since the funeral of President John F Kennedy in 1963, an officer with the unit said.

“We have never marched a U.S. and Irish unit together here for the Saint Patrick’s Day parade,” Lt. Col. John Andonie, commander of Ireland’s 58th Reserve Infantry Battalion, said at the unit armory. “This is the first time ever.”

The 38 Irish Reservists marched separately from the 69th, which traditionally leads the New York City marchers. But they did join the more than 800 soldiers of the New York Army National Guard’s 69th Infantry Regiment and support elements for mass at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral before the parade, and later for an Irish-themed reception at the Guard’s Lexington Ave. armory.

“This is truly a great honor and privilege for the 58th Reserve Infantry Battalion,” Commandant Gerry Jordan, unit spokesman, told the Irish Examiner newspaper before the trip to New York. “This has been reflected in the number of members taking part, totally at their own expense.”

Rocky Point Soldier Jailed For Killing Man He Tried To Protect

In Uncategorized on March 7, 2010 at 1:04 am

A decorated Long Island soldier with four combat tours sits in an Army prison cell at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, convicted by a court martial of killing a man he struggled for an hour to protect.

A former superior calls him a model soldier. Colleagues say the Rocky Point soldier, Justin Boyle, 29, had only been following an Army credo not to leave a fellow soldier in harms way. And the doctor who examined the dead man’s body had changed her autopsy report from “inconclusive” to “homicide,” after a prosecutor confronted her over her findings.

“To be honest with you, I don’t think we learned the truth,” said the dead man’s sister, Michelle Brown, of Fredericksburg, Va. “I think he was trying to help my brother.”

But a court martial at Ft. Bragg convicted Boyle last Oct. 5, saying the wrestling choke hold he used to restrain Pfc. Luke Brown, of Fredericksburg Va., after a night of drinking at a Fayetteville, NC bar recklessly caused the solder’s death.

An article detailing the case appears in today’s Newsday.

Brown, 27, died July, 20, 2008 after Boyle and at least seven other soldiers struggled to subdue him. Brown’s blood alcohol was nearly triple the legal limit and he had become violently aggressive toward fellow soldiers who tried to persuade him to return to Ft. Bragg after the bar’s closing time.

Prosecutors were able to persuade at least six of nine members of the court martial panel that Boyle’s choke hold resulted in Brown’s death. Prosecutors prevailed even though there was testimony that Brown was conscious and talking for several minutes after he was choked.

What appeared to cast serious doubt on the prosecutor’s case was the fact that the military pathologist admitted on the stand that the prosecutor had called her only days before she would testify before a military grand jury. After his call, she changed the autopsy report from “inconclusive” to “homicide” – something she admitted she had never done before.

Soldiers at Ft. Bragg say they are frequently warned by their superiors that if they go out drinking with a group of guys, they had better “do whatever it takes” to make sure no one gets left behind, “even if you have to knock them out and drag them back.”

Boyle, who joined the Army in 2001 and reached the rank of sergeant, served three tours in Iraq and another in Afghanistan. He will receive a bad conduct discharge when his prison sentence is complete.