The Dead Forest

by Richard Dieterle

In 1968 when I was getting really short, we made a long hump through the boonies. We eventually fell onto a rather wide road through the otherwise impenetrable jungle. This road, fashioned of compacted dirt with a slight mix of gravel, was of a pale yellow color and elevated a couple of feet above its bed. It was pleasant to go down such a road after the usual hump through "thick shit," which had been accomplished by the point man and forward element turning themselves into human plows. It was still early in the day and the sky was thinly overcast, but it was bright enough out. We hadn't gone very far down this road when we came to one of the most bizarre sights of the war: suddenly the thick foliage of the jungle gave way to a kind of hellish landscape unlike any I had ever seen. All the vegetation — trees, bushes, vines — everything, had been completely stripped of its leaves, and all the wood had turned a dead gray color. Not a single leaf or speck of green could be seen anywhere. All the trees stood perfect upright as they had in life, but the want of leaves made it possible to see a long way into what would otherwise have been an opaque jungle. That, of course, was the idea. It would be impossible for anyone to ambush us along this road, since there was no cover for them. Still, this was not really very reassuring, since even at the time we had a sense that the agent used to effect this result was probably a greater menace to us than to the enemy. It was time to eat, but I can't now remember whether we pushed on to clear this desert of wood, or whether we did in fact stop to eat there. The area had been sprayed quite some time before with Agent Orange, but it is to this day somewhat unsettling to think of what this stuff could have done to us, and whether at the time of this writing, long distant from that day, I shall not yet become a casualty of the Vietnam War.

The government, as usual, employed the Big Lie. They told the world that Agent Orange was a harmless defoliant and that the strange maladies turning up among those who worked with it were due to other causes. It took countless years to get aid to our self-inflicted casualties because the government refused to confess its lie until it was completely and irrefutably proven that it was a deliberate deception.