A loss of innocence and a betrayal by the government

One of the many weapons used in the battle with Agent Orange

The Vietnam War for all the good intentions we were told, left a trail of broken lives, a dispirited military that lasted until the Reagan Years, a decade of global instability with expansion of tyrannical government leadership, genocide, ethnic cleansing, and chaos. With the US military cast in a shadow of defeat and the US out on a drug-induced, flower-power hippie trip, there was no global leadership. The remnants of war-torn Southeast Asia left a wake of destroyed lives and countries.

Some will have to scratch their heads to remember the POST Vietnam period accept those who served and those who were the innocent victims of a government policy gone haywire. Just to mention a few of the global conflicts that occurred while the US was “out-to-lunch”:

  • Soviet Union expansionism
  • Cambodia Genocide
  • Vietnamese “re-education”
  • Fighting in Peru, Argentina, and other South American countries
  • Jordan-Palestine Civil War
  • Turkish invasion of Cyprus
  • Lebanese Civil War
  • Political unrest in Turkey
  • Islamic Uprising in Syria
  • Egyptian Bread Riots
  • Iranian Revolution
  • Consolidation of the Iranian Revolution
  • Saudi Eastern Province
  • Grand Mosque Seizure
  • Turkey Coup d’tate
  • Iraqi Shia Uprising
  • Iran-Iraq War
  • War in Chad
  • Uganda Coup d’tate
  • Second Chimurenga/Rhodesian Bush War
  • Nigerian Civil War
  • Western Sahara War
  • Yom Kippur War
  • Egyptian-Libyan War
  • Shaba I and Shaba II Wars
  • Burundi Genocide
  • Angolan Civil War
  • and on and on

Nobody American wants the US to be the “Global Cop”, particularly those who have seen the horrors of war, but history has proven that without US leadership and a strong US military, the propensity for tin-can dictators and piss-ant tyrants to exercise their influence into dastardly treatment of their citizens, and for non-democratic countries to try to expand their influence by invading other countries, is as predictable as the rise of the sun in the morning. In short there can be no global peace without a “global cop”, and it is evident that even with a global cop, there are those willing to test our mantle.

My purpose in writing today however, is not to discuss that horrific piece of US history that ended up lasting two decades included in the post-Vietnam war period, but to discuss an injustice to a veteran of the Vietnam War and those like her, that never wore the uniform, fired a weapon, or raised their voice in anger. The story today is about Lesli Moore Dahlke, and those like her whose only mission was to provide support for our troops and our partners in the Vietnam War.

Lesli’s father, Del Moore, was an entertainer and celebrity of note back in the Sixties. In September 1970 he died unexpectedly and in her moment of loss, she was looking for a way to minimize the tragic loss as many who have been in that situation would recognize. She “had to get away”.

1970 was a turning year in the Vietnam War. The American citizenry, for the most part, had turned against what was seen as a never-ending conflict that had taken the lives of tens of thousands of our troops. If you were in Vietnam in 1970, it would have been easy to lose morale with letters from home talking about the civil unrest, the flight of draft dodgers headed out of the country, and college campuses a bed of protest against the war. With the Jane Fonda’s of the world, our troops didn’t really need an enemy in-country, Ms Fonda and many of her ilk, became the symbol of military hatred right here at home, and by association, “the enemy at home”. Her seditious behavior, which should have been totally directed at the government if she wanted to protest, was directed instead on those serving in Vietnam at the bidding of the government.

Johnny Grant, the Honorary Major of Hollywood, was preparing for a Christmas tour of our troops on the front lines, to boost morale and spirits, in the fashion of the many Bob Hope Tours. Mr. Grant actually made 14 total tours during the Vietnam War. He accepted Lesli’s willingness to volunteer, and her photo became the official publicity photo for what became known as the 1970 Christmas Handshaking Tour.

The Department of the Army cut her Invitational Travel Orders dated 7 December 1970, which were require for official authorization to enter Vietnam under military sponsorship. She was issued a temporary civilian GS-15 status which would protect her as a civilian if she had been captured by the North Vietnamese or Viet Cong.

The Hotel Meyerkord in Saigon became the home base for the small touring group which ventured to the front lines in Quang Tri on the DMZ, and extreme fire support bases, all across Vietnam. The Huey became her taxi cab, moving around the country like a Rolling Stones concert tour. Like the Bob Hope tours, there was a bounty on those who volunteered to entertain the troops, so this wasn’t a cake-walk by any stretch of one’s imagination. The tour was tiresome, dangerous, and I am sure grueling, but absolutely essential to bring a piece of home to the troops at Christmas.

According to official travel reports, the Christmas Handshake Tour visited field hospitals, evacuation stations, and extreme remote fire support bases, swooping in on a Huey for a fast visit, and then leaving as fast as the Lone Ranger riding off into the sunset. Regardless of the brief whistle-stop tour at bases across Vietnam, using government reports, we found the amount of Agent Orange sprayed over Bing Hoa at 8,220 gallons and 63,073 gallons near Bong Son. It should outrage every American that some 35 years after the end of the Vietnam War, the federal government has yet to establish a system to handle medical claims made by the estimated 100,000 civilians who may have worked for or on behalf of the U.S. government in Vietnam affected by Agent Orange.

Upon her return to the US, Lesli attended college, completed her education, and earned a Bachelors Degree in Television, Radio and Film with a secondary emphasis on journalism. She created a successful career in television, got married, and started a family…the dream of nearly everyone in the Seventies. And while the future looked bright, there were many unexpected shadows on the horizon.

In June 1990 at the young age of 38, the first shadow over her future came to light when she was diagnosed with a soft tissue sarcoma, retroperitoneal liposarcoma: A rare, slow growing tumor that develops in the retroperitoneal cavity of the abdomen and tends to displace organs rather than destroy them. The tumor generally contains fat and soft tissue.

In Lesli’s case the tumor was about eight pounds and the invasive surgery required to remove it was by no means simple. The surgeons removed 80% of her stomach, a complete splenectomy, and removal of her left adrenal gland. The surgical procedure also included a partial pancreatectomy.

These radical procedures, reminiscent of the Whipple procedure perfected by noted surgeon, Dr. Allen Whipple, for pancreatic cancer, leave the patient with a radically different life. The extensive recovery from such an operation takes many months, and many foods are off the table for the rest of the patient’s life. To say life is inexorably altered is to put it lightly as most patients live in fear of a reoccurrence which occurs in the majority of cases.

In 1992, she underwent a second surgical procedure which was required to remove about four feet of jejunum (the middle portion of the small intestine). This again resulted in almost two years of recovery.

Here we are some twenty years down the road and she is hasn’t been able to live a single day without the knowledge she may once again have to go under the knife or fight off cancer reoccurrence with radiation and chemotherapy.   It’s not just the possibility of reoccurrence that plays center-stage in Lesli’s mind, it’s the many other health problems that can be brought on by an immune system weakened by chemotherapy drugs and radiation. For those not educated about chemotherapy, they are very effective cell-killing drugs made from arsenic, cyanide, e-coli bacteria, platinum, botulism (caused by botulinum toxin) and other cytotoxic components.

You’ve all heard the cautions on many of the drugs used to treat deadly diseases on the television commercials you hear every night…diseases like lymphoma, leukemia, and other cancers. With the make-up of “chemo” being some of the most toxic materials medical research can dream up, it is no wonder Lesli’s diagnosis of T-cell leukemia that settled into her blood, and the lymphoma she was just diagnosed with two years ago have come to pass.

Today, as Lesli’s endless battle with cancer continues, she like many others, have been tossed under the bus. Her injustice, like that being promulgated on the veteran, is proof the government is doing everything in its power to shed responsibility for caring for those exposed to Agent Orange.

Memo 53, was added to the Federal Employment Compensation Act (FECA) on December 13, and 1967 said, “Gratuitous Entertainers With The Armed Forces Professional Entertainment Program Overseas would be “employees” for the purposes of the FECA and, while on tour with the Armed Forces Professional Entertainment Program Overseas, would be entitled to benefits under the Act in the event of death or disability.”

FECA 5 U.S.C 5.81 (22) (COMPENSATION FOR WORK INJURIES) states, “For permanent loss or loss of use of any other important external or internal organ of the body as determined by the Secretary, proper and equitable compensation not to exceed 312 weeks’ compensation for each organ so determined shall be paid in addition to any other compensation payable under this schedule.” Dahlke has lost several internal organs to cancer in 1990- because of surgery done to remove a life threatening cancer; filed a claim under Memo 53; was denied her claim,
and received a final denial on July 1, 2011. To Veterans dealing with Agent Orange problems, denial by the government has become rhetoric we’ve had to deal with so we can understand her frustration.

Promises made by our government to those who volunteered to support our troops, in reality, are just like the promises made to veterans.  “Liposarcoma is a presumptive disease the VA recognizes as being associated with Agent Orange and those presumed exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam between 1962 and 1975 (including those who visited Vietnam even briefly).”

Shamefully even the American Legion Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Division turned its back on her. “It’s been a difficult process (for veterans), so it’s not going to get any easier for a civilian,” said Barry Searle, director of the American Legions’ Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Division. “She deserves our sympathies, because she supported the soldiers, but we can only focus on veterans.” Sympathy my butt! She went when others had turned against the war; she stood tall when others cowered because of public pressure, and now even the Legion runs the other way, and gang…that’s disgraceful.

Past Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Michael Mullen earlier this year heard her story and decided to assign his special assistant, Army Col. David W. Sutherland, to help her, but that too has failed to provide results. Sutherland calls Dahlke one of the most courageous women he has ever met and said she has become a voice for the veterans. Additionall, a retired Marine who now lives in Vietnam, stated, “For all of us who spent time here during the war days, Vietnam changed our lives forever, but it was people like Leslie and the USO teams that brought much needed laughter and relief from the pain and sorrow of war.”

I ask each Veteran who reads this STORY OF BETRAYAL to take a couple of minutes to write a quick letter to your Congressional Representative and State Senators about the plight of Lesli Moore Dahlke, and then copy the President (whoever wins the election tomorrow). It will only take you a minute. Please go to www.yourmiltaryvoter.us and click the fifth LINK at the top of the home page (Contact Congress). There you will find all the information you need to send an email or letter to your elected representatives. Then print and send a copy to the President at the address below:

The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Switchboard: 202-456-1414
Fax: 202-456-2461

We cannot allow this injustice to stand!


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Following his service in the Marine Corps Ed Mattson built a diverse career in business in both sales/marketing and management. He is a medical research specialist and published author. His latest book is Down on Main Street: Searching for American Exceptionalism Ed is currently Development Director of the National Guard Bureau of International Affairs-State Partnership Program, Fundraising Coordinator for the Warrior2Citizen Project, and Managing Partner of Center-Point Consultants in North Carolina. Mr. Mattson is a noted speaker and has addressed more than 3000 audiences in 42 states and 5 foreign countries. He has been awarded the Order of the Sword by American Cancer Society, is a Rotarian Paul Harris Fellow and appeared on more than 15 radio and television talk-shows.