Extract from an interview with Paul Diamond, 9 November 2007
Reproduced with permission of Ian Thorpe
It's now thought that Agent Orange was freely used in the sprayers because there was the perimeter marked by the wire fences and beyond that you had to have something like 200 metres of open clean area where the sentries could shoot.
Was that the area where there were mines?
No, no mines there. Right.
But it was kept clear of all foliage so that there was clear fields of fire for the sentries and the machine guns along the perimeter. That was kept down with the spray.
Did you ever see that happening?
See it happening? Oh yes. You see we didn't know the word Agent Orange when we were there. It was never thought that there was something toxic being used. The spray was thought of as you would any other weed control spray and ... while we are talking about that, both the New Zealand companies at one time went out as escort for a land clearance team. Agent Orange was used, or defoliant was used in our province, not to defoliate the whole jungle so the Viet Cong could be seen, no. It was to open up trails so that the tanks, the APCs could take part in deeper operations and so you would have an unlimited number of helicopter landing zones because the few natural landing zones were well known and were getting to the stage where the Viet Cong were quite capable of booby trapping and preparing. And so we needed an unlimited number and this was provided by creating a 200 metre width lane into the hinterland to open it up for operations. As I say Victor and Whiskey Company and myself at one time were involved as escort to the land clearance gear. The trees had been defoliated by Agent Orange and I don't know how long it took for them to become just skeleton trees but then these big bulldozers would move in, smash the trees down and move the debris aside until you had a 200 metre wide lane. The bulldozer operators, American and Australians, would come out by helicopter each day, put on their masks and do the work and they'd be flown out at night. The infantry guard of course had to stay and if it was done in the dry season the dust would be in your food, in your eyes and your lungs and you know the working of the machinery would raise the dust. When the big Chinooks came in to take them home at night the dust they would raise. We didn't realise it then but that was probably the most hazardous exposure that our people came to. Later because it was dust it was done in the wet season and so the dust was replaced by mud in the food. It's only afterwards of course that we realised how sinister really that was.
Vietnam War Oral History Project, Manatu Taonga Ministry for Culture & Heritage