Agent Orange victim, activist dies

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Nguyen Thi Hong, 60, a member of the Vietnam Agent Orange Justice delegation that visited the U.S. in June this year, died July 20 in Vietnam from Agent Orange-related cancers. She and two other Vietnamese Agent Orange victims testified before a federal appeals court in New York, June 18, on the class action lawsuit filed against U.S. chemical companies by the Vietnamese Association for Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin.

Two weeks ago, Merle Ratner, co-coordinator of the Vietnam Agent Orange Relief and Responsibility Campaign, reported in our Letters section that another member of the delegation, Nguyen Van Quy, died July 7 at the age of 51, also from Agent Orange-related illnesses.

Ratner has sent out this new message:

Dear Sisters and Brothers,

I am heartbroken to report that our dear sister, Nguyen Thi Hong, passed away at 10:45 a.m. on July 20, 2007, in Ho Chi Minh Hospital for Tumors.

Ms. Hong was a liberation fighter with the National Liberation Front serving in many capacities. She and other women were known as the Long Haired Army. She was exposed to Agent Orange both during her service during the war and after liberation, through living near a “hot spot” in Bien Hoa. Due to her exposure to Agent Orange she suffered from multiple cancers, liver problems and other illnesses. After the end of the war, she worked as a seamstress, among other occupations, and her beautiful craftswomanship is evidenced in several pillow covers in my home.

During her time with us in the United States, I shared a room and often a bed with Ms. Hong. I witnessed her tremendous determination and courage in the face of terrible pain. She had a tumor growing through the skin of her breast where the cancer had grown back after her mastectomy. The bleeding from the tumor could only be stopped by binding up her wound with gauze and bandages every day.

Despite being tired and sometimes short of breath, Ms. Hong was hard working and militant. When we encountered right-wing demonstrators who attempted (unsuccessfully) to disrupt our press conference at the court of appeals hearing on the lawsuit of Vietnamese Agent Orange victims, Ms. Hong declared that she was ready to fight them, even in her wheelchair. Nguyen Thi Hong was both strong and articulate. Her words moved the many audiences she addressed, with her quiet dignity and directness.

Ms. Hong also showed a great deal of sympathy for and solidarity with ordinary U.S. people struggling with poverty and injustice. When we encountered homeless people in the streets of New York, Ms. Hong asked how it was possible for people to be homeless in the richest country in the world and asked what could be done to help them. She also expressed her sympathy for me and others she met who were unemployed, and her concern about our daily lives.

Thousands of miles from home, Nguyen Thi Hong was caring and involved in the lives of her family. Several times a day, her family would call her on my cell phone, and she would inquire about everyone’s welfare and give advice about family issues.

Ms. Hong had a wonderful sense of humor and would tease me on a daily basis about my horrible Vietnamese language skills, about my coffee addiction and so many other things.

Nguyen Thi Hong was hopeful about her struggle with her illnesses, determined not to give up fighting for life. But at our final summation of the visit, she said that she thought she would be going home to her ancestors before the end of the year. We are sorry that her journey has taken place before we were able to visit her and her family in Vietnam.

Nguyen Thi Hong is an example to all of us of how to spend one’s life dedicated to service of the people and the struggle for national and human liberation.

We will miss her and always try to live like her!

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