The historical record reveals substantial herbicide use on bases in Thailand.
Although VA recognizes “there was significant use of herbicides” at numerous Thailand military bases, it continues to deny Thailand veterans the presumption of exposure afforded to Vietnam veterans. Due to the density and high growth rate of tropical vegetation in Thailand, the military used herbicides because mowing was seen as labor intensive and ineffective. Furthermore, there are several reference reports admitting herbicide use throughout bases in Thailand. Herbicides were used to control vegetation in Thailand’s tropical environment. More specifically, herbicides were used to improve visual observation of the base perimeter.
Due to attacks on Thailand bases, military leaders ordered the use of herbicides. In a 56th Special Operations Wing memo with the subject “Lessons Learned from the Attack on Udorn, 26 Jul 68,” the Deputy Commander of the 7/13th Air Force ordered base commanders in Thailand to “review base defense plan with an eye to covering critical areas which are adjacent to the perimeter.” As a result, defense surveys and reassessments were conducted throughout Thailand, including one survey conducted from June 23 to 30 1969, at NKP, Udorn, Ubon, Korat, Takhli, and U-Tapao. Regarding base defense, the survey stated:
A continuing vegetation control program is required for cleared areas under and between perimeter security fences. The area between the fences is intended to be used as a no-man’s land with additional detection and deterrent devices such as trip flares, TSSE, tangle-foot, etc. being employed within. In view of the above, a mowing operation for vegetation control will be impossible. As a result, a conscientiously controlled program of vegetation control through the use of herbicides must be applied. Application of herbicides must be directed toward retarding growth to provide a cleared area ….
Because of ongoing security concerns, Air Force leadership ordered the use of additional herbicides. Several documents demonstrate that Agents Orange and Blue were present in Thailand. For example, 28,000 gallons of herbicides were airlifted by two C-130s from Phu Cat Airbase in Vietnam to Udorn prior to some of the RANCH HAND missions later launched from Udorn to targets in Laos from February 2 to 7, 1969. However, per the 1971 CHECO Report, only 7,000 gallons of this herbicide, mostly Agent Orange, were dispensed in Laos. That leaves 21,000 gallons of herbicide unaccounted for with their last known location in Thailand. This directly coincides with Air Force documents stating that defoliation operations around the Udorn perimeter occurred during this period. It stands to reason that this remaining herbicide was used at other bases since 21,000 gallons was far more than necessary for a single base. Hence, herbicides including Agent Orange were used in Thailand despite VA’s denial.
In Command Sergeant Major (Ret.) Kenneth Witkin’s statement, he attested to observing Agent Orange being sprayed around the barracks at Udorn in 1970-1971. This coincides with documentation demonstrating that Major George Norwood addressed the need for strong vegetation control and that the Base Civil Engineers had been requested specifically for vegetation control on Udorn in 1971. In his appeal to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals, Thailand veteran Ronald Switzer stated he was a material handler of Agent Orange and that after the 1969 attack on Ubon, the perimeter was pushed back and the “trees lost their foliage.” This correlates to documents showing the recommended use of herbicides in 1969 and their subsequent use in 1970, 1971 and 1973. Photographs of Ubon’s perimeter demonstrate it was pushed back and that there was a lack of foliage between the old and new perimeter.
The use of herbicides on NKP was noted in the 1973 CHECO report and in a soldier’s sworn statement. Thailand veteran Wayne Hogstad was stationed at NKP from April 1967 to April 1968 and was assigned to the police squadron. In Mr. Hogstad’s statement, he said that he observed a C-123 aircraft mounted with spray equipment next to barrels with orange stripes. He reported that he took time “to ride with a mobile unit Security Alert Team around NKP bases perimeters, [and] while going along the east perimeter a crew from civil engineering with a truck with a tank” sprayed what Mr. Hogstad believed to be Agent Orange. His statement aligns with the CHECO report, which notes that “heavy use of herbicides kept the growth under control in the fenced areas.” Moreover, Mr. Hogstad’s statement correlates with a historical record showing a request dated October 11, 1967, sought “six C-123 herbicide aircraft and 60 personnel to operate from [NKP] for a 15 day period.”
The author of a 1982 article published in the Journal of Legal Medicine, titled “Agent Orange: Government Responsibility for Military Use of Phenoxy Herbicides,” states that “[e]very American who served in Southeast Asia was potentially exposed to Agent Orange, as the herbicide was used to clear areas before construction and to defoliate compound perimeters, landing zones, and fires bases.” For support, the author cites to an appendix to the 1979 hearing on Senate Bills 741 and 196. During the Committee hearing on S.B. 741 and S.B. 196, Congress considered perimeter spraying. Similar to the Air Force unit histories in Thailand, the 1979 hearing noted that herbicides were used around bases in order to maintain base security.
RANCH HAND was also not prohibited from herbicide spray missions in Thailand. In November 1969, the NKP Commander requested RANCH HAND assistance to defoliate the ordnance drop area. In his request, the Commander stated: “Application must be by air because area is overgrown and ground application would be extremely dangerous due to live munitions in the area.”