The U.S. jungle warfare training area in northern Okinawa is
seen in this aerial photograph taken in 1996. The U.S. jungle warfare training
area in northern Okinawa is seen in this aerial photograph taken in 1996. KYODO
The finding was part of a recently uncovered ruling in favor
of a former U.S. serviceman seeking compensation for prostate cancer he blamed
on his work in Okinawa in the early 1960s.
The discovery comes as the U.S. Defense Department has still
to confirm whether Agent Orange was stored or used in Okinawa during the Vietnam
War, which ended in 1975.
In a ruling issued Jan. 13, 1998, the board concluded that
"credible evidence sustains a reasonable probability that the veteran was
exposed to dioxins while serving in Okinawa."
The board granted the man service-connected disability
compensation for prostrate cancer that was "the result of Agent Orange exposure"
while in Okinawa between 1960 and 1961.
It found "entirely believable" his testimony about the U.S.
military's mixing, storage and use of Agent Orange in Okinawa at a time when the
prefecture was still under the control of the United States and used it as a
strategic transport hub during the Vietnam War.
Agent Orange, a herbicide mixture containing the highly toxic
substance dioxin, was sprayed by U.S. military aircraft over South Vietnam from
1961 to 1971 to clear jungles and deny cover to communist fighters.
It has since been blamed for numerous health problems,
including various types of cancer and birth defects.
The former serviceman, who worked as a motor transport
operator on Okinawa Island and had never been to Vietnam, testified that while
Agent Orange was mainly used to defoliate trees and shrubbery in lush war zones
like Vietnam, "in Okinawa, we had other uses for it, particularly near base camp
He said herbicides thought to include Agent Orange were
sprayed from trucks or backpacks along roadsides, used for landscaping and taken
to the densely forested northern part of Okinawa to clear foliage to facilitate
war game maneuvers.
Subtropical Okinawa's heavy rainfall, he said, created a
demand for nonwater-soluble defoliants such as Agent Orange that would not wash
away with the next rain.
"The thing that bothers me the most is that we were not told
or warned about the hazards of the herbicides that we were handling, nor were we
issued any protective clothing," he testified.
As recently as November 2004, the U.S. Defense Department
stated that it had been unable to find any records of Agent Orange being used or
stored in Okinawa during the Vietnam War era.
The statement came in response to queries made that July by
then U.S. Rep. Lane Evans, a ranking Democrat on the House of Representatives
Veterans' Affairs Committee, who wrote to then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
requesting any information on the use or storage of Agent Orange in Okinawa.
"I am particularly interested in ascertaining when and where
Agent Orange and similar herbicides were stored on Okinawa and whether or not
there was any usage of herbicides or reports of spillage from drum corrosion or
any other event which potentially involved exposure of service members to these
herbicides," he wrote, according to a copy of the letter.
Richard Myers, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,
replied to the letter in November 2004, saying "records contain no information
linking use or storage of Agent Orange or other herbicides in Okinawa."
Myers further said there was "no record of any spills,
accidental or otherwise, of Agent Orange. Therefore, there are no recorded
occupational exposures of service members in Okinawa to Agent Orange or similar
The Board of Veterans' Appeals ruled that while the U.S
military was "generally unable to document the use of herbicides in Okinawa,"
experts who attempted to verify specific dioxin exposure there "do not negate
The former serviceman, it said, "was indeed where he said he
was, at a time when military buildup from a support standpoint was considerable,
doing a job which was entirely consistent with the mixing and other transport of
herbicides, and at a time when these were both used and warnings not necessarily
given, as he stated, since the hazards were not fully understood."
Hundreds more former U.S. servicemen who were stationed in
Okinawa during the Vietnam War have lodged medical compensation claims with the
Department of Veterans Affairs, citing Agent Orange exposure, according to
information online in the archives of the Board of Veterans' Appeals.
Most cases have either been denied or sent for review on the
grounds of insufficient evidence linking their illnesses to Agent Orange
The various documents surface at a time when Washington and
Tokyo are realigning the U.S. military presence in Japan following years of
protests from Okinawans, who have long complained about crime, noise and
crowding associated with U.S. bases.
U.S. bases occupy about 20 percent of Okinawa's land area and
have been viewed as being a large part of the island's environmental problems.
In 1969, a leak of the deadly nerve agent VX on Okinawa
injured 23 U.S. servicemen and one American civilian, sparking a furor among
Japanese as the chemical weapons had been kept secret from Japan. The weapons
were subsequently removed.
Under the realignment, about 4,000 hectares of the
7,800-hectare U.S. jungle warfare training area that straddles the villages of
Kunigami and Higashi in northern Okinawa, mentioned as a place where Agent
Orange was sprayed, are due to be handed back to Japan.
Kunitoshi Sakurai, president of Okinawa University and a
specialist in environmental engineering, expressed concern over the possibility
of residual dioxin there, pointing out that the northern area is the source of
most of Okinawa's water supply.
Dioxin, Sakurai noted, does "not dissolve in nature" and would
still be present even more than 40 years after its use.
"The Okinawa government does not know whether Agent Orange was
used in the base," he said. "It's difficult to know what is going on inside a