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Vietnamese liberation fighter Nguyen Van Quy

Published Jul 14, 2007 8:19 AM

A painful reminder of the continuing toll of a U.S war that is long past came with the announcement of the death of Nguyen Van Quy on July 7 in Hai Phong, Vietnam, at age 52 from Agent Orange-related illnesses including stomach and liver cancer.

Federal Court of Appeals hearing June 18
calling for compensation for victims of
Agent Orange. Nguyen Van Quy in
wheelchair with Sara Flounders, right.
WW photo: Ellen Catalinotto

Mr. Quy’s death came just nine days after he traveled to the U.S. although he knew he was in the terminal stage of cancer. Using a wheelchair, he attended the June 18 oral arguments for continuing the lawsuit against Monsanto, Dow Chemical and 35 other chemical companies for their role in supplying the poisonous chemical defoliants used in Vietnam.

The suit in U.S. Federal Court was initiated by a massive grass roots campaign throughout Vietnam demanding justice. The suit charges that U.S. chemical companies manufactured defoliants that they knew contained dioxin, the most toxic chemical known. These companies, which made enormous profits on the Pentagon contracts, are liable under international law and must provide compensation.

The Pentagon sprayed defoliants, including Agent Orange, over vast areas of south Vietnam’s forests and fields in an effort to defeat the national resistance movement by starving the population and denying ground cover to the liberation forces.

The Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange, VAVA, has gathered documentation and studies that confirm that over 4 million Vietnamese still suffer the harmful effects of exposure to dioxin sprayed by the Pentagon on Vietnam’s countryside more than 40 years ago.

Heroism & quiet determination

Nguyen Van Quy is an example of the determination and quiet heroism that led to Vietnam’s victory in resisting U.S. and earlier Japanese and French imperialism. From the age of 17 to 20 years Nguyen Van Quy served in the Vietnam’s Peoples Army as a communication line repairman and platoon commander on the famous Ho Chi Minh trail.

As part of the Liberation Army he ate the crops and drank the water in provinces in south Vietnam that were being continually sprayed with deadly defoliants. Quy suffered intense headaches, exhaustion and rashes at the time.

Now Nguyen Van Quy has two children who suffer from genetic damage from the dioxin. His son Nguyen Quang Trung and his daughter Nguyen Thi Thuy Nga are both severely physically and developmentally disabled. They are unable to care for themselves, to walk or attend school. By a decade after the war, Quy became too sick to work.

Quy was one of the first three Vietnamese plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the U.S. chemical companies. After U.S. Judge Jack Weinstein’s decision three years ago to dismiss the Vietnamese suit, Quy, in an interview, pledged to press on.

“I’m determined to pursue the case until the end, because this is justice,” stated Quy. “I’ll fight, not just for myself, but for millions of other Vietnamese victims. ... Those who produced these toxic chemicals must take responsibility for their actions.” (Associated Press)

Quy was a mass leader and a Communist Party activist in his community. Merle Ratner of the Vietnam Agent Orange Relief and Responsibility Campaign, who organized the trip of the Vietnamese delegation in the U.S., described Quy as a true internationalist with a great sense of optimism who was very knowledgeable about revolutionary and Marxist theory and deeply interested in the movement for peace and justice in the U.S.

At a reception for the Vietnamese delegation on June 16 held at the 1199 SEIU union hall in a moving display of solidarity forged by determined opposition to U.S. war, Dave Cline of Vets for Peace presented Nguyen Van Quy with the Purple Heart he had been awarded based on his service and injuries in the Vietnam war.

Constantine Kokkoris, an attorney representing the Vietnamese survivors in federal court, is determined to continue the legal suit. “I think that most people in America and around the world believe that the Vietnamese people have been wronged, that this was unjust and unfair, and I’m confident that a U.S. court will agree that this was unfair and that compensation has to be paid to these victims, and that something has to be done to remove this contamination so that it will not continue to be a threat to future generations here in Vietnam.”