Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Valley woman suffers from effects of Agent Orange

Lesli Moore Dahlke smiles in her Westlake Village home. When Dahlke was 18, she went to Vietnam during the war, as part of the USO's handshake tour, where young women went to hospitals and bases to help cheer up the guys. 40 years after the war, Lesli has been struck with rare forms of cancer--twice, and it's lately that she wonders if it's because Agent Orange. Lesli has started a website to bring more awareness. | Related story: Agent Orange a toxic killer. (Michael Owen Baker/Staff Photographer)

Before the cancer settled into her blood and stole parts of her stomach, spleen, and pancreas, the photographs and diary Lesli Moore Dahlke saved from her time in war-torn Vietnam symbolized only her Valley Girl innocence.

She was 18 then, a tall, blonde, blue-eyed beauty from Encino with high cheekbones and an easy smile.

Grieving the recent death of her father, comedian Del Moore, and touched by the televised images of young soldiers fighting an unpopular war, Dahlke volunteered for the USO's Handshaking Christmas Tour in 1970.

During the 18-day trip with legendary entertainer Johnny Grant and three other "handshake girls," she flew by helicopter over thick jungles from Saigon to Quang Tri, swooping in for morale-boosting visits with soldiers at field and evacuation hospitals and fire-support bases.

Carrying along a small, white leather diary, she wrote about what she saw and the young men she met:

"December 14th, 3:00. Went to 3rd Division Evacuation Hospital. Visited three wards and emergency area. The men were all very friendly and glad to see smiling faces from home. They were shy at first but were grateful to be remembered. They talked mostly about their hometowns and about going home.

"Everyone here is very warm but the sadness and loneliness in their eyes is heartbreaking."

She walked where the soldiers walked, breathed in their air, drank their water and bathed in their showers.

She almost felt like one of them.

READ MORE: http://www.dailynews.com/news/ci_15844901

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