The Orange Heart Medal Project was founded in January 2018 as a 501c3 organization whose mission and purpose is to bring recognition for veterans who served in the Vietnam war and who were affected by exposure to Agent Orange, an herbicide and defoliant chemical. It is believed that August 10, 1961 is the first date that Agent Orange was sprayed. Five months later Agent Orange was widely used in Vietnam by the United States military as part of the herbicidal warfare program called “Operation Ranch Hand” from 1961 to 1971. This orange powder was sprayed over the land from helicopters or low flying aircraft. The herbicide quickly destroyed vegetation and crops. The goal was to destroy crops, defoliate rural and forested land and deprive enemy guerrillas of food and cover for their activities. Agent Orange allowed clearing of sensitive areas around military bases. The United States military sprayed nearly 20,000,000 gallons of Agent Orange. In addition to the damaging environmental effects, Agent Orange has also caused major physical injury to the 2.6 million American soldiers who were exposed. Agent Orange is a dioxin. It is a cancer-causing chemical that enters the body through physical contact or ingestion. Dioxin moves into the human cell nucleus where it attacks the genes and causes a number of serious illnesses. For many these effects laid dormant for 40 plus years. Conditions currently attributed to Agent Orange exposure include such illnesses as leukemia, lymphoma, myeloma, Ischemic heart disease, soft tissue sarcoma, amyloidosis, diabetes, and cancers of the throat, prostate, lung, colon, and other life changing conditions. The genetic damage from Agent Orange, in some cases, has affected the second and third generations of veterans among those who were exposed. Noted conditions in those generations include such conditions as spina bifida and other congenital anomalies which have been diagnosed in the exposed veterans’ children and grandchildren. Current studies are continuing at Vanderbilt University on the generational effects of Agent Orange exposure. Studies are currently showing exposure into the fifth generation. Today only approximately 600,000 of these veterans are still living while 390 deaths are occurring every day among soldiers who continue their march to join their fallen comrades.
The purpose of the Orange Heart Medal Project is to bring recognition to veterans who were exposed and subsequently were affected by Agent Orange during their military service in the United States Armed Services. The Orange Heart Medal Project was born in the heart of Ken Gamble, U.S. Navy Veteran, Vietnam as he laid receiving radiation and chemotherapy at the Veterans Administration Hospital for his own prostate cancer. After suffering in silence for many years with his own Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which is also common in many war veterans, Ken was now suffering the effects of his own Agent Orange herbicidal exposure. Ken took on the responsibility of being a voice for all of the soldiers who were and are still suffering the effects of Agent Orange exposure. Ken started the Orange Heart Medal Project in January 2018 using his own funds to design, patent, and create the Orange Heart Medal. Ken applied for and received designation as a 501c3 organization. Ken designed and received Trademark registration of the Orange Heart Medal emblem. We created, and are currently updating our website www.orangeheartmedal.org , where you will find applications for the medal, general information, articles on Vietnam and a blog that shares stories of veterans who have been affected by Agent Orange. This website is a tool to help educate the public on available resources for veterans and their families. Our primary goal has been to provide to each veteran or their surviving spouse the Orange Heart Medal, free of charge because in Ken’s words, “the veteran has already paid for it.” We believe that the Orange Heart Medal serves as a recognition of the chemical warfare exposure suffered by these soldiers. The medal also allows those memories to be shared as the Orange Heart Medal is passed on to the soldier’s generations to come. In addition to the medals, we have used the Orange Heart Medal emblem to have shirts, caps, pins and patches made. These items are displayed and sold at community events to help raise awareness and funds to cover the cost of the medals. To date we are just a few shy of providing 4,000 medals to veterans or their surviving spouses. Applications have been received from across the United States, Australia, Thailand, and Puerto Rico. We are a privately funded organization receiving no federal funds for our efforts.
We strive to educate, assist and work with local state, and eventually national legislatures to draft and pass legislation that will declare dioxin, Agent Orange, as chemical warfare. This recognition will help educate and assist all veterans with proof of exposure and will assist in securing, adequate access to and quality health service benefits for affected veterans as well as the veteran’s future generations who are affected by Agent Orange exposure. We recognize that these men and women answered the call to defend and protect our great United States and likewise we should recognize and defend them.
Our foundation worked with our State Representative of Tennessee District 66, Sabi “Doc” Kumar, MD, FACS to draft and introduce Bill HJR0108, a Resolution to honor and recognize victims of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. This bill was introduced by Dr. Kumar and passed unanimously in the House on 2/6/2019. The Bill was then sponsored by Tennessee Senator Kerry Roberts and was unanimously passed by the Senate on 2/13/2019. The Bill was signed by the House Speaker on 2/15/2019, signed by the Senate Speaker on 2/19/2019. The Bill HJR0108 was signed by Governor Bill Lee on 2/22/2019 making this Resolution to honor and recognize victims of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War law in Tennessee. The bill was presented to us on the chamber floor of the Capitol on 3/18/2019. It has been estimated that within the next six and a half years all of the Vietnam veterans will be gone. For this reason, we believe that time is of the essence. Many other states have been closely watching and waiting for Tennessee to pass this bill and are currently planning to follow with introducing their own bill. Once more states introduce and pass their own bills, we will be able to approach Congress and hopefully achieve this recognition on a Federal level.
The Orange Heart Medal Project’s current focus is working to establish a permanent monument to memorialise the veterans that served in Vietnam. The memorial will include the names of Veterans who returned from Vietnam, many who have died or are continuing their battles to join their fallen comrades due to the effects of Agent Orange. If the Veteran has lost their battle with Agent Orange, an orange heart will be placed next to their name. A rendering of the monument was completed and work is well underway to build the monument. We are currently taking applications to add the names to the wall. We ask for $150 donation to add a veteran’s name where they will be memorialized forever. Plans are to unveil and dedicate the monument on Veterans Day, November 11, 2020. The monument is being placed at the entrance to the Springfield Memorial Gardens in Springfield, TN where they graciously provided the land, worked with us to get the monument created and they will continue to care for the monument. The monument also has the capability to have more sections added as we identify the need.
A long reaching dream for our foundation is to be able to help children and grandchildren of Vietnam Veterans by establishing a scholarship program.
Our unwavering goal and hope is to ensure that all Vietnam Veterans and their families are recognized and that history never forgets the sacrifices these brave men and women made so that we might remain free.