Agent Orange brings Vietnam back to a Sauk Rapids vet

Al Hams, who started a few music careers when he owned Al’s Music in St. Cloud, Minn., isn’t allowed to forget Vietnam. Not anymore, anyway.

He’s got Parkinson’s Disease, believed to be linked to the widespread use of the Agent Orange defoliant he was exposed to during the year he served in Vietnam.

He put Vietnam behind him but it’s back, the St. Cloud Times reports in its profile of Hams.

“The only thing I’m sorry about is that I can’t play (guitar),” he tells the paper. “Music is such an important part of my life.”

“I feel like I really helped a lot of people get into music — thousands and thousands of kids, from schools all around,” he said. “It affected me to a huge degree.”

As the Vietnam generation gets older, they’re flooding VA hospitals as the problems from Agent Orange continue to surface.

Of the nearly 18,000 Vietnam vets seen at the St. Cloud VA last year, 75 percent were exposed to Agent Orange.

He says the only resentment he has in his life is the public’s treatment of the Vietnam vet when he mustered out in 1970.

“They issued me a whole brand-new dress uniform, with all my ribbons, a whole set of dress greens, shoes, everything,” he said. “In order to leave the post, we had to be in uniform. So I got on the Army bus, and went to the San Francisco airport.”

That moment remains one of Hams’ most vivid Vietnam-related memories.

“The first thing I did after they released me was I went inside to the bathrooms, took off my new dress uniform and threw it away,” he said. “The garbage cans in the terminal were full of dress green uniforms.

“Everybody was doing it, and putting on civilian clothes.”

Hams put on his civvies, boarded his plane and returned to his wife and life in Minnesota.

“Sometimes it’s hard — not just for Al and me, but for some of the older vets, knowing what they went through,” Teri Hams said. “They just did not get support that military guys are getting today. Hopefully, we learned from that.

“That can never be repaired.”

Previously: Health issues push St. Cloud music icon Hams into 2nd retirement (St. Cloud Times)