Agent Orange’s effects detailed in film Friday

April 20, 2008

“The Last Ghost of War,” a new independent film about long-term health damages from Agent Orange and dioxins, will have its first showing in the Appalachian region Friday evening at South Charleston’s LaBelle Theater.

The 57-minute film interviews American veterans from the Vietnam War, Vietnamese people whose towns were sprayed with Agent Orange in the late 1960s and early 1970s, as well as local workers who produced the chemicals at Monsanto’s Nitro plant, which is now closed.

Janet Gardner, the film’s producer, met and photographed children in Vietnam who suffer missing limbs, enlarged heads and bulging eyes.

The Rev. Jim Lewis said West Virginia Patriots for Peace is sponsoring the local showing.

“The film depicts wars and the costs of war – the Vietnam War and all wars,” said Lewis, who was rector at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Charleston between 1974 and 1982.

“When I was at St. John’s, veterans came to me and asked me if they could have space for an office for a chapter of Vietnam Veterans for America. We gave them the space and they provided counseling for Vietnam veterans. They also worked on the Agent Orange problem.

“I am always interested in the local connections between war and the people at home – people who fight the war and people who produce the materials to fight the war. People come home battered and bruised and, in this case, poisoned by dioxin,” Lewis said.

“The Last Ghost of War” shows Vietnamese children who had been born with deformities after their parents were exposed to the toxic herbicide used to defoliate jungles that hid the National Liberation Front in South Vietnam and the North Vietnamese Army.

The film also focuses on people such as Michael and Maureen Ryan, a Long Island couple whose daughter, Kerry, suffered 22 birth defects after her father was exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam.

Gardner and Susan Hammond from the War Legacies Project will both be in South Charleston to discuss the film.

Ollin McClanahan, a retired Monsanto worker interviewed for the film, said on Wednesday, “When we worked at Monsanto, we did not know anything about dioxin or Agent Orange.

“The first I ever heard of Agent Orange was in 1972, when Monsanto closed the plant down, dug up everything around it and threw everything away.”

Hammond has been showing the film primarily on college campuses.

“Some of the Nitro workers share a similar connection to Agent Orange through illnesses they have as a result of exposure to Agent Orange,” she said.

“Decisions that are made in Washington to go to war have long-term consequences both in foreign countries and in communities that feed the war machine by making products or by sending their own youth to war.”

Hammond said she frequently travels to Vietnam to help provide medical care for “people still dealing with the consequences of war.”

“Vietnamese families with severely disabled children are falling through the cracks as Vietnam is rapidly changing and developing. Those who are disabled and ill tend to get left behind,” she said.

Lewis will chair a panel and audience discussion after the film is shown.

John Skaggs, a Charleston lawyer who represents workers suing Monsanto for damages to their health, also will attend Friday’s screening.

“This material is very persistent. It doesn’t go away. Two and a half times as many Agent Orange chemicals as were sprayed in Vietnam stayed in the environment around the Nitro plant, and they did not all disappear down the sewer.”

Gardner also has produced other films, including “Precious Cargo,” about 2,000 children airlifted out of Vietnam at the end of the war in 1975, and “Dancing Through Death,” about a Cambodian dancer who grew up under the Khmer Rouge.

The film will be shown at 7 p.m. at the LaBelle Theater, located at 311 D St. in South Charleston. The program is open to the public, and there is no admission charge.

To contact staff writer Paul J. Nyden, use e-mail or call 348-5164.

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