In 1975, I was a fifth grader at Lizzie Horn Elementary School in Grenada, Mississippi, and was largely oblivious to world events. Halfway through the school year, a new student joined my class. Her name was Tam, and she was a very recent immigrant to the United States. One of her first assignments was to write a biographical essay for our English class. If my life depended on it, I could not tell you what my own essay was about, but I will never forget Tam’s.
Tam was born in 1964 and grew up in Vietnam during the war that so many Americans opposed.
Her fifth grade essay told her family’s harrowing story of escaping the communist regime that took over her country after the American and other Western forces pulled out. Her essay made me want to learn more about the war and the country of her birth, and I began reading anything I could on the subject. I read news articles, biographies of American soldiers, and even war novels set in Vietnam. Through these, I learned of the controversy surrounding the U.S.’s involvement, the horrific devastation caused by the herbicide known as Agent Orange, and the terrible treatment of the returning American soldiers who fought in Southeast Asia. Everything I read focused on the American experience. None of the books and articles I found said very much about the Vietnamese civilians who paid the heaviest price for what many considered a proxy war between the U.S. and our biggest enemies.
Although Tam and her family eventually left my hometown, the mark she left on me remained.
Years later, my medical research studies, which focused on understanding a reproductive disease known as endometriosis, unexpectedly led me to a compound called dioxin. From my reading years before, I knew that dioxin had been present in Agent Orange and was the reason that the herbicide was toxic to not only plants but also to humans and other animals. Our research suggested the development of endometriosis in women could be related to their father’s exposure to Agent Orange during the war. Our studies made me wonder about the Vietnamese civilians who would have had far greater exposure to the chemicals in Agent Orange compared to any Western soldier. The medical literature coming out of Vietnam confirmed my suspicions. Unfortunately, the cost to the civilian population was far greater than I could have ever predicted. Cancer, diabetes, endometriosis, and numerous other diseases seemed to be rampant in areas that were heavily sprayed with Agent Orange. Most tragic, dioxin had long been suspected to cause birth defects, and the thousands of Vietnamese children born with horrifically deformed bodies and mental disabilities left no doubt that it was.
By some twist of fate, long after meeting Tam, I married another Vietnamese refugee and started a family.
Curiosity eventually led us to have our family’s DNA analyzed. That spur-of-the-moment decision led us to discover a previously unknown relative of my husband’s. The relative had been born to my husband’s aunt after she had a relationship with an American serviceman. As the story of my husband’s new cousin unfolded, I thought of Tam and her journey, the lingering effects of Agent Orange, and the many Western soldiers who left lovers and children in Vietnam. It seemed to me that these stories also needed to be told. For this reason, I wrote my first novel, Time Intertwined. If Tam ever reads it, I hope she realizes that my desire to tell this story was in large measure fueled by her essay from long ago.
If interested in learning more about Kaylon, her books, or her medical research studies, Author’s Lounge readers can visit her website
Time Intertwined is the first book in the Agent Orange Trilogy. All three books are available on Amazon at The Agent Orange Trilogy (3 book series) Kindle Edition (amazon.com)