In 1969 my grandfather, Charles Love Mullins V, was deployed to Vietnam. He enlisted in the U.S. Air Force as an aircraft maintenance officer.
During that time, the military was using Agent Orange to poison trees and shrubbery so that the Viet Cong could be easily spotted and tracked, but the United States was unaware of the life-changing effects this chemical would have on its own members.
In 2003 my grandfather retired from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, which was most likely caused by his exposure to Agent Orange.
The U.S. government has recognized that many military personnel contracted diseases like Parkinson’s from exposure to this chemical without proper protection. There is a small stipend that each affected individual is granted, but money does not offer a cure, a solution or the slightest bit of compensation when it comes to the suffering this disease caused my grandfather and family.
A side effect of Parkinson’s is Lewy body dementia, which causes proteins to build in the brain, causing erratic behavior, hallucinations, drastic memory loss and losing the capability to form complete thoughts. I watched a man who could once tell me about anything — from military aircrafts to types of birds that are native to New Mexico — become incapable of telling me his name or what city he was in.
To watch him suffer was heartbreaking.
Throughout all of it he was so strong, never complaining, just happy to see us. He passed away on Nov. 26, 2017.
I am so grateful for the time I was able to spend with this amazing man.
Autumn Sage King is a freelance photographer for the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter@autumnsagekingg.