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Our Vietnam Voices

Our Vietnam Voices: Curtis’ Story

“Those of us who were in Vietnam, we know and we will never forget.”

May 26, 2017

Editor’s note: This KCTS 9 video is part of a larger series of local stories featuring people impacted by the Vietnam War. The promotional series is being produced in conjunction with the airing of The Vietnam War, a 10-part, 18-hour documentary film series directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, the first episode of which airs on Sept. 17, 2017 on KCTS 9.

Veteran Curtis Thompson shares his memories of serving in the Vietnam War. 

“There were two seasons when I was in Vietnam: Hot, where the dust gets inches thick; and then the monsoons, where the mud gets even thicker.”  

During the war, Thompson’s first military occupation specialty (M.O.S) involved maintaining and operating generators.

“But I also spent much of my time on my back in the dirt, working on vehicles,” he says. “I didn’t know then that dioxins were soaking through my shirt and into my body.”

Throughout the war, the U.S. sprayed millions of gallons of dioxin-laden herbicides from aircraft to destroy the forest and jungle that provided cover for North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops. The most commonly used herbicide was called  “Agent Orange.” Dioxin exposure has been linked multiple health problems, including cancer. 

Thompson was one of many unwitting soldiers who became sick from the exposure. 

“I had welts on my back. My hair was falling out. I had horrible headaches. It was like I was getting chemo therapy right there.”

None of us asked for anything back then. Those of us who were in Vietnam, we know and we will never forget.

He then changed his M.O.S. to medic.

“We’d carry the wounded to their ambulances for their flight home and we’d talk to them to try make them feel better. We’d say ,‘Where you from?’ Or ‘You lucky S.O.B., war’s over. You’re going home,’” he says. “But we knew some of them weren’t going to make it.” 

Decades later, he is still dealing with the effects of the war. Ten years ago, Thompson found out he has cancer, presumably from the dioxin exposure he experienced. 

“Right now, I am stable. Life is different forever,” he says.

“None of us asked for anything back then. Those of us who were in Vietnam, we know and we will never forget.”

See part one of The Vietnam War on KCTS 9 on Sept. 17, 2017.


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Charles Costanza

Charles is a 25-year veteran producer creating a wide range of broadcasting content including social media content, education, public affairs documentaries and live-action filmmaking. He has received several awards as a director, writer, videographer and editor. Charles grew up in Florida, Oregon and spent over 20 years living abroad in Australia. Costanza is a graduate of Washington State University and is a keen fly fisher (always catch-and-release!). More stories by Charles Costanza