'We were just children': Yarmouth resident wonders about Agent Orange effects from time in Gagetown

Tina Comeau tcomeau@thevanguard.ca
Published on April 22, 2015

Yarmouth resident Gerald Gehue holds up a rejection letter. He's tried to get extra financial help from the government to help pay for medication. He thinks a lot of his conditions are linked to Agent Orange and when he was a child at CFB Gagetown with his dad.

©TINA COMEAU PHOTO

YARMOUTH – “We were just children.” Just kids, says Yarmouth resident Gerald Gehue. They didn't know any better, he says, and no one told them any differently.

Gehue was at CFB Gagetown in the 1960s with his father, who was a member of the military. While they were there Agent Orange, a toxic herbicide, was sprayed. It was sprayed by the US military, with Canadian permission, in 1966 and 1967.

“They were going around doing chemical sprays, near the tree lines. When we were kids, when they used to spray the insecticides, we used to run behind the trucks when they were spraying that stuff,” Gehue says. “Nobody told us not to.”

He says they’d play in the fields and when they came home they’d have this dust on the bottom of their pants.

“Mom used to say, ‘Get that off you before you come in the house,’” he recalls, so they’d brush it off with their hands. “It was a dust, orange. You used to have it all over your hands. Nobody told us we weren’t allowed to play in that stuff.”

Fast forward by decades.

Gehue suffers from many ailments and conditions – he’s got lung issues, heart problems, diabetes, etc. And he can’t wonder if some of it – maybe all of it – is linked to his exposure to Agent Orange.

He suspects it played a role in his father’s death.

“My father was in the army for 25-and-a-half years. When he got out he died three years later.”

He was just 47.

“When we moved out of there, we moved to Yarmouth, and in the 1970s we’d hear about Agent Orange and the stuff it does,” Gehue says. “When you turn 40 and 45 and everything starts breaking down . . . you start to wonder.”

He doesn’t know for certain that his health conditions are linked to Agent Orange. But he suspects they are. Many symptoms, he claims, match up.

Due to his health he’s unable to work. He often feels dizzy. He’s short of breath. He takes a regiment of pills. He’s 53.

Several years ago the Canadian government offered a one-time, tax-free ex gratia payment of $20,000 to those eligible that was related to the testing of unregistered US military herbicides, including Agent Orange, at Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Gagetown in 1966 and 1967.

There have been since been court cases and also class action lawsuits. He’s part of a lawsuit that he says just keeps going back and forth. Gehue has tried, without success, in recent years to receive some financial assistance from the government as the child of a military veteran

“Something for basic living, that’s all I want,” he says. “My pills are so expensive now I can’t afford them. My wife is the only one working.”

But he’s gotten nowhere, he says.

He’s received a letter saying Veterans Affairs Canada is committed to helping veterans and their families in every way possible and providing them with benefits they are entitled to. But he’s also told in this same letter he does not meet the eligibility requirements.

Gehue disagrees.

“I’ve done everything. I’ve called everybody. All I’ve been doing is getting the run around from every one of them and they’re saying. ‘No, we can’t help you. You weren’t a veteran . . . No, I wasn’t a veteran, but I was still there.”

He says one person he spoke with said there was nothing that could be done as they were trespassing on government property.

That's not how Gehue remembers it.

“That property was open to everybody. Soldiers brought their kids. We weren’t jumping over fences or climbing through holes. We’d go in through the main gate. Nobody ever stopped us,” he says. “Even the spraying of the insecticide, that was on the main road where the kids were. We used to run and play because we thought it was fun. You couldn’t see anything, it was all foggy.”

He says he’s speaking about because he wants to draw attention to this issue.

Again, he says. “We were just children.”