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)

  • MrE85
  • jon

    I was talking to my father a few months back… he made reference to some one being surprised at the fact that some one else had a purple heart. My father responded by telling them a whole list of people they both knew who had purple hearts (many of them from vietnam, a few from WWII) among them my grandfather, and my uncle. Though he told them to never ask them about it because they won’t talk about it, or any of their experiance in the military.

    I told my father at this point that he was wrong, my uncle did talk about it, at least once.

    I was maybe 12, my aunt, uncle and cousins lived 2 doors down from us, I’d play with my cousins and occasionally help my uncle with work around his yard (he had 4 girls so I think he liked having a kid to do boy stuff with). We were washing his truck one day in the summer when he started talking about his experiance during what I was taught was a police action.

    At that point in my life I had heard many stories from my father about his experiance in the military (he was drafted and stationed in panama during vietnam) all of it bad, most of it designed to make me not want to join the military.

    That summer day washing my uncles truck vietnam stopped being a police action and started being a war. That day I understood why my father didn’t want me to join the military.

  • Angry Jonny

    My brother in law was diagnosed with AML about two years ago. He was in the Navy during Vietnam. AML has a tendency to be dormant for years until symptoms such as fatigue begin to emerge. He has worked for a Community Action Agency in northern Minnesota for about 35 years, and finally retired last fall, probably not coincidentally as his AML began to require more treatment. He doesn’t talk about Vietnam very much, although he’ll answer any questions he’s asked. He’s one of the most kind hearted, gentle souls you will ever find in your life. His advice to young people, if asked, is to avoid enlisting in military service. If a person feels the swelling pride of patriotism within themselves, there are other ways to show it instead of being exposed to cancer causing agents or coming home in a box. The military will chew you up and spit you out.

  • Al

    At least, now, the VA is acknowledging that Agent Orange could even remotely make people sick. Too little, too late for kids who lost a parent to other diseases caused by Agent Orange before the bureaucracy got its act together.

    • Angry Jonny

      Their act is still not together.

      • Al

        Correction: Should’ve said “getting.”