In 1967, about to graduate from Steelton High
School, John Galinac wanted more than just a job at the steel mill. He
wanted to go to college.
The 19-year-old, second-generation Croatian-American enlisted in the Air Force with his sights on the G.I. Bill.
Within months, he became a military police officer,
patrolling the perimeter of Phu Cat Air Base in the Binh Dinh Province
in what was then South Vietnam. The jungle around the coastal air base,
like much of the Southeast Asian country, was a dense, canopied world
that provided a safe haven for the enemy.
But fate put Galinac — and thousands of others — in the path of a
killer as deadly but far more stealthy than their North Vietnamese foe.
And more than 40 years later, the strategy the U.S. military deployed to
decimate that jungle has leveled a lethal legacy.
Galinac is among the roughly 2.8 million U.S.
military personnel — out of 7.4 million total — who served in Vietnam
between 1962 and 1971 and were exposed to Agent Orange, one of several
potent defoliants deployed by the military to destroy the Vietnamese
jungle and, along with it, the enemy's hiding place.
Galinac died at the age of 64 on April 24, 2013,
almost two years after being diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer,
common among Vietnam veterans.
His story — and that of the other men profiled in
this account and thousands of others with untold stories — traces the
trajectory of Vietnam veterans, who contend with deadly maladies caused
by exposure to Agent Orange and a U.S. government that has, at times,
been unresponsive to their needs.