16 June 2011

Our Group Letter to the Secretary of the Air Force

Honorable Michael B. Donley
Secretary of the Air Force

670 Air Force Pentagon
Washington, DC 20330-1670

June 7, 2011

Dear Secretary Donley,

Along with Major Wes Carter and Lt. Colonel Paul Bailey, I represent a small group of veterans who flew the C-123K/UC-123K “Provider” during the period 1972-1982, after the aircraft had been used for spraying Agent Orange in Vietnam. We assumed the aircraft, with its tanks and spray gear removed, was clean and safe for flight. We loved the plane, particularly the famous “Patches”, and as all aircrews are supposed to, flew our airplane as much as possible in our normal airlift and aeromedical evacuation missions. 

The Air Force Reserve had three squadrons of C-123’s, our squadron at Hanscom AFB, and later Westover AFB, a squadron at Rickenbacker AFB and a squadron at Pittsburgh ARB. Each squadron had 16 aircraft assigned. Of the C-123 aircraft assigned to the 731st Tactical Airlift Squadron at Westover, eleven of our assigned aircraft sprayed Agent Orange during Operation “Ranch Hand” in Vietnam. These aircraft all tested positive for Dioxin long after we flew them. We have never been notified of any health hazard we were exposed to during our eleven years of flying Air Force missions all around the world in these aircraft.

We have recently noticed a large group of us becoming sick with illnesses we knew to be ones in the Agent Orange-presumptive group. Checking on Google, we find many Air Force reports of the C-123K/UC-123K remaining “heavily contaminated” in 1993, 1996, 1998, 2000 and 2008, many years after their last Vietnam spray missions and a decade or more after we flew the planes into retirement at Davis-Monthan. Surplus sales were halted due to concerns about toxicity and liability. We also note that the remaining planes were decontaminated of their dioxin contamination by shredding the metal and melting everything into scrap ingots.

We feel it logical that if Air Force tests show the airplane so contaminated Davis-Monthan and AF museum workers can’t enter it without protective coveralls, respirators and decontamination afterwards, we have been exposed during the hundreds of hours we flew the Provider, and the thousands of hours in addition we worked on the ground. We asked Oregon Health Sciences University to look over the Air Force test data and on the science of it they concurred…we’ve been exposed.

The President of the Vietnam Veterans of America and some others hoping to help us are approaching Secretary Shinseki to request his ruling that aircrews and maintainers of the C-123K have been exposed to Agent Orange, on the basis of the Air Force tests establishing the toxicity of the airplanes. May we ask for the support of the Department of the Air Force in this? We were dedicated career Air Force flyers, on duty flying Air Force aircraft worldwide, on a weapon system which Air Force tests have shown toxic even a decade, two decades after our last use. We ask our Service and its leadership for whatever support is possible in addressing the Department of Veterans Affairs.

I will be happy to provide copies of documents showing the test results that confirm the heavy contamination of these aircraft and the failure of the Air Force to take any action to notify us of our exposure to dioxin should you require copies. We have numerous documents you may want to see.


John O. Harris
Lt. Colonel, USAFR retired
107 James Circle
Mashpee, Ma 02649
(John's phone # here)


  1. I just knew we were exposed. I worked the C-123K phase docks at Phan Rang from 1/71-12/71 When the ex 'spray birds" came in you could just smell the "safe" stuff. We had 1 C-123K come into phase and the crew was complaining about a "sloshing" sound coming from beneath the floor. When we opened the floor, there were quite alot of AO laying there that had obviously leaked from the fittings or tank. We had to scoop it out with whatever we could improvise, but we were told "Don't worry, it's safe"

    1. Greg, can you consider a statement on the VA form, 21-4138 to this effect? VA disagrees any of the AO went under the cargo deck. Thanks.


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