Jim Rhodes is a great human being – and a dear friend. He recently returned from a year of living and working in Viet Nam – Hanoi to be precise. What makes his story somewhat unique is the special relationship Jim has with the Viet Namese people. He told his story at our house on Saturday Night.
Jim was in Viet Nam as a soldier with Special Operations from 1968 to 1969. His unit was responsible for retreiving downed American pilots. They also mixed and loaded and dispersed Agent Orange, the dioxin-based defoliant we sprayed on that country by the millions of gallons. In 1969, Jim got sick. He began vomitting blood. He was evacuated from Plaicu with the 71st med-evac and discharged with honors. Unfortunately, “with honors” meant “without healthcare”.
As Jim suffered tumor after tumor for the next 14 years and exhibited all the symptoms that the Government’s own Agent Orange report linked to that deadly defoliant, Jim was repeatedly denied treatment. The Government report not withstanding, the Veteran’s Administration continued to insist there was “no proof” that his illness was caused by Agent Orange. Finally in the early 1980’s, having a strong will to live and a cultivated disdain for bureaucracy, Jim wrote to the US State Department and told them he intended to violate the embargo on Viet Nam and travel there for the medical treatment they had developed for their own victims of that horrific poison during what they call “The American War”. Receiving no response from our government, Jim went. The Viet Namese people saved his life.
Jim has spent years as a columnist, publishing many newspaper articles about Agent Orange and our government’s feined ignorance of it’s dangers. Jim was welcomed into Viet Nam “as a long lost brother” he says, and given the treatments there that have helped overcome the physical pain. More importantly, he has received a measure of forgiveness and love from a people with every reason to hate him, that has yielded a great spiritual healing in his soul. He has written a book about his war, and post-war, experience which will be published in Viet Nam next summer. All of his proceeds will go into a fund for the treatment of Viet Nam’s Agent Orange victims. Jim says “it’s the least I can do”.
There were several Viet Nam veterans among our guests Saturday night. Every one of them expressed their gratitude to Jim for telling his story. One man, who has also suffered from Agent Orange, told Jim “when you go back there, please tell your friends inViet Nam that I’m sorry”.
There comes a point in a man’s life when politics and power, struggle and stress, must give way to compassion.
“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. (King James Bible, 1 Corinthians, 13:11)
Jim Rhodes reached that point some time ago. I hope nations can follow his lead.