Vietnam veteran James Kaelin stands on a dirt road staring into an empty scrub forest once part of Fort Chaffee, a U.S. Army Training camp east of Fort Smith, Arkansas.
“They won’t even admit to this being a test site to anybody,” Kaelin says. “But I have information showing the Army tested Agent Orange, Agent White and Agent Blue on seven different locations on Fort Chaffee in 1966 and 1967 without knowledge to the general public. It was top secret.”
Kaelin has brought with him a stack of white papers a half-foot deep, still on the floorboard of his burgundy pickup, military documents proving that Fort Chaffee was a chemical weapons proving ground. Cicadas trill this hot August morning as military aircraft buzz overhead. Kaelin frequently pauses while telling his story to identify the make of each plane going by, without looking up.
“Rumor has it that pine trees were planted along the perimeter of this one test site,” Kaelin says, “in order to camouflage all the dead foliage inside.”
During the Vietnam War, U.S. military forces decimated jungles occupied by North Vietnamese with tactical defoliants. The chemical agent mixtures, categorized by colorful code names, were tested on U.S. national forests as well as more than a dozen rural military bases including Fort Chaffee, a 75,000-acre Army post straddling Sebastian and Crawford Counties in west central Arkansas.