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Agent Orange Barrels

By Jim Wachtendonk

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I think everyone knows of someone touched by Agent Orange, the chemical defoliant used in Vietnam. To emphasize the cost in lives of our brothers and sisters I began a Booneytunes Art Project in 2011 with one 20-gallon drum painted like an AO barrel with a side that reads, "Do you know someone touched by AO? Please put their names on this AO barrel so they might be remembered. Perhaps others will remember as well." I started displaying the AO barrel locally and it's found a home at The Wisconsin Veterans Museum in Madison, Wisconsin, The High Ground Veterans Memorial Park in Nielsville, Wisconsin, art shows, and even the farmers market. The names began to multiply quickly with testimonials folks had written that show the significant and poignant cost AO has bequeathed to Vietnam veterans and our families. Now, in 2016, the number of AO barrels has risen to four and I can see a fifth and sixth down the road. As an artist my goal was to show the cost these defoliants caused with stark realism. Like the names on The Wall in Washington, DC, you can't help but feel the same loss after experiencing the AO Barrels. They have become memorials all on their own.

Reaction to the effort has been enthusiastic with only a couple bumps in the road. Two local conservative veterans organizations labeled the AO barrels "too political" and they don't want it at their events. In one case, I was kicked off a talent show to honor vets by the Honor Roll Memorial Committee. They told me if I said one word other than the song I was to perform, they would close the curtain and shut off my mic. When I said I would say a word about the AO barrel I was out. I was the only vet on the bill. The same group voted unanimously not to let my family lay a wreath at our local memorial honoring AO veterans and their families. In the other case, Wisconsin Vietnam Veterans Chapter 7 sponsored an AO Symposium at the Legion and it was presented by Vietnam Veterans of America. I called and asked if they were interested in having the AO barrel at their event and the call back blew me away. I was told I was a trouble maker, they'd already called the cops and if I brought the AO barrel I would be arrested. To be honest it's my VVAW affiliation that eats at their craw. Some people can see the connection between art and the struggle while others only see fear. As an artist I felt I'd arrived.

If you have someone in your life who is touched by AO and want their name on the AO barrel you can email that information to Booneytunes@yahoo.com and I'll add the name. Anyone interested in my music and art can assess it all free at Reverbnation.com.

Making Art Not War, Jim Wachtendonk is a VVAW member of The Zak Wachtendonk Memorial Chapter, Gillingham, Wisconsin.

Jim with the Agent Orange Barrels.

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