by Alvin L. Young
For those of us who went to college in the 1960s, the Vietnam War was a major social and political issue. I wasa ROTC (Reserve Officers Training Corps) cadet at the University of Wyoming [Laramie, Wyoming] and 1964, the year of my commissioning and graduation from the University, was the year that the War officially became a national commitment. Because I graduated from the College of Agriculture, I was aware of the military’s interest in the use of herbicides in Vietnam. Accordingly, I contacted Air University, Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, and requested a delay in reporting to active duty so that I could attend graduate school in the area of pesticides. Air University concurred in my delay and I quickly finished a Master’s Degree at the University of Wyoming and was accepted for a Ph.D. at Kansas State University [Manhattan, Kansas] beginning in August 1965. At Kansas State I completed my degree in the areas of herbicide physiology and environmental toxicology. My dissertation was on the mechanism of action of Tordon® 101 (known as the military herbicide Agent White when it was used in Vietnam during the Vietnam War). I reported for active duty in the fall of 1968 to Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. I was assigned to the program that was developing the spray equipment for Operation Ranch Hand in Vietnam. Eglin’s Test Area C-52 was the unique test site for the testing and development of such equipment.
In April 1970, the Department of Defense and other agencies of the Federal government suspended the use of 2,4,5-trichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4,5-T) herbicide. The suspension was based upon the presence in the herbicide of the toxic contaminant 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-para-dioxin (TCDD or dioxin). Since Test Area C-52A had received more than 72,000 kg of 2,4,5-T from Agent Orange in the course of developing the spray equipment for Vietnam, it was the ideal place to conduct ecological studies on the fate of TCDD. I prepared a research proposal to the United States Air Force (USAF) for the study of the Test Area. It was accepted and funded beginning in late 1970. As we began the studies of the Test Area, we realized how important it was to document the literature on not only the use of 2,4,5-T in the United States, but also the use of Agent Orange in Vietnam. Thus, I began to develop the collection of reference materials later referred to as the "Agent Orange Collection." Initially, I collected as many documents/reports as were available on the early development and testing of the spray equipment used in Vietnam.
Our research at Eglin Air Force Base attracted national and international attention. We were one of only a few research teams that were conducting “field” environmental fate research on TCDD. By late 1971, the USAF was beginning to collect information on methods to destroy the surplus inventory of Agent Orange that remained from the Vietnam War (Project PACER IVY). Simultaneously, I was transferred to the USAF Academy, Colorado Springs, Colorado, and was in an ideal situation to continue work on the ecological studies at Eglin Air Force Base and on the biodegradation of Agent Orange, the latter being a method I had proposed for the disposal of the herbicide. The Agent Orange Collection continued to grow as we added documents in the area of herbicide disposal.
In 1976, the Seveso, Italy, episode involving TCDD occurred. Again, our research team (now at the USAF Academy) was called in to assist the Italians in addressing the decontamination of TCDD from a residential area north of Milan. I served on the Seveso Authority from 1976 to 1986. In 1977, I was assigned to the Environmental Health Laboratory at Kelly Air Force Base, Texas. I was on the team for the disposal of Agent Orange by at-sea incineration (Project PACER HO). With destruction of the herbicide, I initiated the site monitoring at Gulfport, Mississippi, and Johnston Island, an atoll located in the central Pacific Ocean where drums of Agent Orange were stored before incineration. The Agent Orange Collection now included additional materials on environmental fate.
In the fall of 1978, I joined the USAF Occupational and Environmental Health Laboratory (OEHL), Brooks Air Force Base, Texas, and began working on background information for the Air Force Health Study, the study of the men who served in Operation Ranch Hand in Vietnam. This effort enlarged the Agent Orange Collection significantly to include all available information on the potential health effects of exposure to TCDD and herbicides. In addition, I had the opportunity to again interface with the men who had served in Vietnam. They donated hundreds of slides and photographs of Ranch Hand and Vietnam for the collection. In 1981, I was detailed to the Veterans Administration (VA) in Washington, D.C., to assist the VA in addressing the concerns of veterans potentially exposed to Agent Orange, and in 1983, I was detailed to the White House and the Office of Science and Technology Policy. These assignments added materials on the social and political implications associated with Agent Orange use to the collection.
With the increased interest in litigation on Agent Orange and dioxin, it became increasingly difficult to maintain the integrity of the collection, particularly with the number of Freedom of Information requests to view the collection materials. By 1985, the demand was so intense that I felt that it would be impossible to continue holding and moving the collection with each additional assignment that I received. After my appointment as Science Advisor to the Secretary of Agriculture, I contacted the National Agricultural Library (NAL) and asked that they accept the collection as part of their Special Collections. I considered NAL to be the ideal repository for the collection because herbicides were an important part of American agriculture and the scientific and historical perspective presented by the Agent Orange Collection would be recognized and valued by the library. The collection was moved to NAL that year, and over time I have tried to continue adding to the collection. It is my hope that the Agent Orange Collection will serve as a reference collection for future studies of the science, history, and social and political interactions that were a part of the Vietnam War.
I would like to thank NAL and the USAF for providing the funding and opportunity of having the collection properly organized and prepared in an electronic format as a special collection available to the public.
Introduction written by Alvin L. Young, July 2002
The Alvin L. Young Collection was arranged and processed by Patricia Murphy, Jennifer L. Hogue, and Stephanie M. Boehmer, with assistance from Lynn J. Stewart.