Thursday, January 27, 2011

Faces of Agent Orange - The Hansens

Karl Hansen’s son, Adam, had been dead five years before questions about Agent Orange arose. Until then, Karl had not given the herbicide a thought in all the years that followed his Vietnam tour of duty. But after Adam’s death, he found himself reconsidering not only the tragedy that befell his son, but health problems faced by other of his children as well.

Burkitt’s lymphoma, a form of cancer so rare that only 300 cases a year are reported in the United States, led to Adam’s death. He was 25 years old. The exceptionally aggressive disease killed him so quickly that Karl had little time to investigate the rare cancer’s mystery. After Adam died, Karl needed answers and began researching Burkitt’s. It was in the course of that search that Agent Orange unexpectedly entered the discussion.

Karl served with the Army in Vietnam in 1968-69. He remembered the spraying, but thought little of it, even when he was in Vietnam.

“I didn’t have a clue,” he said. “I knew there was spraying going on, but I didn’t know if it was for mosquitoes or what it was for. I didn’t think about it at all when I was there. What caught my attention was the stuff I saw on the Internet and
after I joined VVA and saw some of the articles on Agent Orange being written.”

Karl and his wife had six children — four daughters, then Adam, then another daughter, a birth order that was something of a family joke, because it was exactly the opposite of Karl’s parents. His father, a Navy veteran, also had six children. But first came four boys, then a girl, then a boy.

Karl said Adam was a “wonderful kid.”

Neither a smoker or drinker, he steered clear of the trouble a boy might find growing up. He was a good student and built a reputation as a hard worker in every job he took on. At 25, he was a newlywed with a good job in Provo, Utah, managing the care of model homes for one of Utah’s largest home builders. He was in his last semester at Brigham Young University and due to graduate. Karl was so proud of his son, who would be the first in the family to graduate from college.

Significant numbers of veterans have children and grandchildren with birth defects related to exposure to Agent Orange. To alert legislators and the media to this ongoing legacy of the war, we are seeking real stories about real people. If you wish to share your family’s health struggles that you believe are due to Agent Orange/dioxin, send an email to or call 301-585-4000, Ext. 146.

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