Friday, April 15, 2011

Agent Orange: A Chapter from History That Just Won’t End
The Boneyard
by Ben Quick

THE FIRST THINGS I SEE are the tails of the planes. They jut like hundreds of dorsal fins rising from prehistoric fish that have been lined up by a butcher on a massive table of thin brown grass. It is a surreal sight, and I allow my eyes to settle into the rhythm of motion—not quite focused, not quite gone—watching the rows of sharp metal ridges whir past at fifty miles per hour.

As I crest a small rise, the bodies of the craft come into full view: rows and rows of warplanes, all shapes and sizes, stretching on forever, it seems. I force myself back to the task at hand, navigating the approach to the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center (AMARC) on the southeast side of Tucson, Arizona. I turn right at the traffic light on Kolb Road into a small parking lot and find a space.

Ten minutes later, I’m riding shotgun in a black van with government plates. My driver, head of public relations at AMARC, is Terry. Middle-aged, handsome, and soft in her talk and manners, Terry asks me what I want to see. I hesitate—not because I don’t know, but because I’m not sure how to tell her that I’ve come to bear witness to American folly, to rest my eyes on the flying machines that flattened the forests of Southeast Asia, poisoned its people, and changed my life.

“The C-123s,” I say.

She looks at me quizzically, pushes her index finger to her lower lip. I’m nervous to begin with, having never been on an air base, having very little in the way of credentials, and having tried, however awkwardly, to obscure the true reason for my visit. I’d told her I was doing a piece on Vietnam-era warplanes for graduate school when we talked on the phone.

I mutter these words—My father is a veteran—and I’m suddenly taken by the irrational fear that I may have given the impression of an apologist looking to take some photos for a nostalgic slide show.


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