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Medal of Honor Recipient HeadlineingSalina Vietnam Vet Event

Tim UnruhMarch 25, 2022

An event with deep personal meaning for millions — particularly current military and veterans, also areas living near military installations — is planned Saturday at The Temple in downtown Salina.

A full day of activities unfolds in the dining hall of the majestic building at 336 S. Santa Fe, beginning at 9 a.m. with the free Toxic Exposure Town Hall, staged by the local Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 809.

Sammy L. Davis, left, and Jim Deister pose for a photo during their 2016 return trip to Vietnam. Courtesy photo

In an evening grand finale, Medal of Honor recipient, Sammy L. Davis, of Freedom, Indiana, will speak at the 7 p.m. Welcome Home Dinner. At least one of the men he saved during a horrific battle in in Vietnam — Jim Deister, 76, VVA chapter president — will attend and play a role in the big day.

Davis, 75, seeks to inspire his friends in north-central Kansas, with some sage advice: “No matter what you are faced with, you don’t lose until you quit trying,” he wrote in a statement, “and to see Jim Deister in the audience strengthens my soul tremendously.”

Tickets for the dinner, catered by Martinelli’s Little Italy, are a suggested $20 donation. They’re available by calling Doug Randolph, (785) 822-4085, by visiting Ad Astra Book & Coffee House, 141 N. Santa Fe, or The Temple.

Speakers on Agent Orange, Burn Pits and Toxic Spills at Military Bases, including the former Schilling Air Force Base in Salina, will both gather and provide key information on those issues that pose risks for folks who served abroad and live near toxic spills.

Doors open at 9 a.m and the first presentation begins at 10. A box lunch will be served from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. A $10 donation is suggested, with proceeds going to the Vietnam Veterans Association.

Issues up for education and discussion carries wide appeal, said Deister.

“The town hall is important to veterans of Vietnam, many who were exposed to Agent Orange, to discover how the toxic agent affects them, their children and grandchildren; for veterans of the Middle East wars affected by burn pits,” he wrote in a statement “All citizens should be aware of the many toxic spill at military bases in the US, as it could have an effect on their health.”

First up in the Town Hall is Maynard Kaderlik at 10 a.m, whose exposure to Agent Orange profoundly affected his life and his family.

A deadly defoliant, Agent Orange, containing dioxin, was among more than 20 million gallons of a number of herbicides over Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos from 1961 to 1971, according to history.com. It was used to kill plant cover and crops for the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops.

The chemical was later proven to cause many serious health problems, including forms of cancer, birth defects, rashes and severe psychological and neurological problems, among Vietnamese people and returning U.S. servicemen and their families.

A 1979 class action lawsuit resulted in chemical companies paying $180 million in compensation to the veterans other next of kin, the history.com article reveals, but the controversy continued more than four decades

Kaderlik was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2010. His son suffers from a severe learning disability, and his daughter has autism, according to an article on the VVA website by Jim Belshaw.

“Early on, the government told us it was all in our heads. But as more and more studies were done, and more scientists began to speak out, the government began to takeout seriously and allow veterans disability and compensation,” Deister wrote. “There still are many who have been denied, so Maynard will ask for veterans’ stories who have been dealing with AO and dealing with/fighting with the (Veterans Administration, put those with other stories, and use those to advocate for veterans.”

Lindsey Dearing, professional staff member at the United State Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, will follow Kaderlik a the podium, and speak on Burn Pits.

An estimated 3.5 million post-9/11 combat veterans may have experience some level of exposure to burn pits during their service, Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas wrote on his website. The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee ranking member, Moran, and Chairman Jon Tester D-Montana, introduced the bipartisan Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act, which has passed both the House and Senate. The two chambers are working on a compromise bill to settle funding issues.

The legislation will “extend the period of health care eligibility for combat veterans who served after Sept. 11, 2001, Moran’s website reads.

“Many of these veterans could be living with undiagnosed illness linked to military toxic exposures,” Moran was quoted as saying. “We must respond to the immediate needs of those veterans by providing health care.”

At least one critic called the Senate effort ‘insufficient,” according to the Moran website story.

Fixing mistakes can take time, said Martha Tasker, Salina Utilities Director, who will speak on Toxic Spills at Military Bases.

“My goal is to let them understand a little history of Schilling Air Force Base, and what has occurred since the base closed,” she said.

Tasker is the city’s project manager for the cleanup of contamination at the former base. It now houses Salina Regional Airport and Airport Industrial Center, Kansas State University Aerospace and Technology Campus, and many other businesses, schools and organizations.

The base that had been used by the military since the 1940s, closed in 1965.  Left behind were years of pollution, primarily from he solvent trichloroethylene, or TCE, in the soil and groundwater. It is creeping, ever so slowly, toward city water wells.

“That’s the goal, to stop the creep,” Tasker said.

A carcinogen, TCE was used as a degreaser to wash aircraft and weapons at the base. City wells are not in immediate danger, city officials have stressed over the years, but their aim is to eliminate the underground plumes.

After a long battle and litigation with the U.S. Government, Salina Public Entities —  the City of Salina, Salina Airport Authority, Salina School District and Kansas State University — secured nearly $70 million to clean up the mess.

“The base was in service less than 25 years, and here we are, nearly 60 years later, and we’re just getting around to cleaning it up,” Tasker said. “The community is taking over the project. We can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s not a train.”

Working closely with Matt Schroeder, environmental engineer with Dragun Corporation of Farmington, Hills, Michigan, Tasker is helping to develop plans for the cleanup, which will begin later this year. Finalizing other plans will continue for two years before construction of infrastructure ensues.

“Right now we’re testing and monitoring groundwater, getting ready to do some additional sampling, to fine-tune the design and make sure we’re locating all the wells and the treatment facility, and be cost effective in the project,” she said.

The work will be overseen by the Kansas Department of Health & Environment. After additional investigation, the final design will begin, and construction of different types of remediation will begin.

Digging up contaminated soil and replacing it is one of the treatment alternatives that could being this year, Tasker said, but the most complicated treatment will be pumping out the contaminated water, cleaning it and returning it underground.

“It doesn’t happen overnight,” she said.

Perhaps the most time consuming tasks will be embroiled in 20 years of monitoring, to ensure the level of contamination is well below regulatory standards.

“I think we’ll be doing monitoring through about 2050,” Tasker said, “unless things go better than planned. We’ll learn more with time.”

Those time frames are currently estimations, she said.

“Some remediation will happen really quickly, and some will be a little slower,” Tasker said. “We’ll be monitoring for quite some time.”

_ _ _

FACTOID: Proceeds from the Welcome Home Dinner are aimed to benefit Kansas Vietnam Veterans.

The event was made possible in part by a grant from The American-Made Heroes Foundation, that “salutes U.S. military veterans who dedicate their lives to helping others, especially fellow service members,” according to its website.

While the Town Hall is free, box lunches will be served during the earlier Town Hall, for a suggested donation of $10. Proceeds go to VVA Chapter 809.

Temple doors open at 9 a.m. There will be vendor displays. Coffee and snacks will be served by Daughters of the American Revolution members. Donations would be appreciated.

_ _ _

Photos  Courtesy Tim Unruh –  Top Photo Left to right, Sammy and Dixie Davis, pose with Rita and Jim Deister during a visit to Washington, D.C. in September 2015.

Copyright © Meridian Media, 2022. All Rights Reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced without Meridian Media’s express consent.

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