Wayne Henry Hayden - Sergeant, Heavy Truck Driver, U.S. Army
January of 1973. The war in Vietnam was in its last couple years. Wayne had drawn such a high draft lottery number, he wasn’t going to have to go - but his younger brother got called. The idea of this was very troubling to Wayne and he couldn’t figure out how to get his brother out of serving. So, on the day the bus arrived to take his brother away, Wayne went down to meet the bus with him. While the guy in charge was busy checking his brother in, Wayne snuck onto the bus.
“I said: If you’re takin’ him, you’re takin’ me. … And then he got stationed at Fort Carson - three years and he was out. Shit. So if I had been able to look at the future and see that, Hell he’s just going to be in Colorado Springs, I wouldn’t have worried about that. I would never have gone into that damn thing.”
Wayne did his Basic Training at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri. He was an exceptional soldier and it was war time, so they pulled him out of Basic after only 4 of the usual 8 weeks and moved him on to AIT (Advanced Individual Training) at Fort Ord in California. There he learned to be a Heavy Truck Driver - 64C. His good performance as a soldier continued and within a year of joining the Army he was promoted from E-1 Private to E-4 Specialist. In just another year he made Sergeant.
June 1973. Wayne was sent to Fort McClellan. He spent the next 14 months there working in the field around the base and transporting truck loads of WAC (Women’s Army Corps) trainees to the firing range and other places around post. He also began experiencing health issues.
“I went to sick call there with rashes and breathing problems - tonsillitis, the whole gamut. Never once was I told what was going on. …[The water] smelled like it had fuel in it. It tasted different, it smelled different and I thought man this is - something’s wrong with the water here.”
August of 1974, Wayne was assigned to the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) along the border of North and South Korea. Here, he received specialized NBC (Nuclear, Biological & Chemical) training. After this training Wayne began to recognize some of his health issues in the lists of symptoms from toxic chemical exposures - rashes, sores, boils, and anal bleeding. A painful rash that sent him to sick call soon after arrival in Korea, was diagnosed by the post doctor as Shingles. Wayne had never had the Chicken Pox - a precursor to Shingles - and he didn’t believe the doctor. The “rash" turned out to be a chemical burn.
Barrels of Agent Orange, other toxins and hazardous activities were a daily experience at both Fort McClellan and in South Korea for Wayne.
“The Agent Orange barrels - god damn - they were at the motor pool. They had the orange ring around them, but we were lied to. We were told ‘That’s not harmful. You can take a bath in it. It won’t hurt ya’.’ … Hey, we cut the barrels in half, used them in the latrines in Korea. And then we would pull the barrel out of the latrine, pour diesel fuel in it and burn it while we stood there staring at it. Was that toxic? There wasn’t a day that I was in there, that there wasn’t some kind of a toxic situation. And the government knew it … and still do.”
Wayne continued his service in the Army until November of 1977, when he received an honorable discharge. He then went to college in Colorado Springs, Colorado, got married and started a family. His first son was born with part of his brain not fully formed and no esophagus. His second son was born with lung issues, an inoperable brain tumor and a tumor in his navel. Both boys required extensive treatment at Children’s Hospital Colorado, spent their young lives existing on the edge of life, and continue to live with health issues. The pain and suffering that his children have gone through troubles Wayne deeply and brings him to tears when he talks about it.
“People tell me ‘thank you’ today for my service…that’s a mistake. I tell them, you know what, that’s the worst mistake I made in my life - and you want to know why? And they’ll say Why? I’ll say, I created two kids who suffered every day of their lives and got nothin’ because I stood up. Carry that weight.”
While his children were struggling, Wayne was trying to survive his own growing list of health issues. He was having a range of severe allergic and anaphylactic reactions. “Nobody knew anything, nobody knew a damn thing.” He describes, more than once, driving down the road and having to pull into a fire department for help because of a sudden reaction. There were times the paramedic announced that Wayne had no registrable blood pressure. In later years he received allergy testing and learned what triggered his reactions and is now able to manage himself better. He's now also on a steady dose of Prednisone that helps to manage his reactions.
Wayne says that he is one of the very few veterans known to have received a service connected disability from the VA for toxic exposures at Fort McClellan. The way he tells it, a combination of 8 years of work, luck, gumption, persistence and divine intervention helped get his claim approved and settled.
Mastocytosis, Leukemia, Colon Cancer, Prostate Cancer, Bladder Cancer, COPD, Central Sleep Apnea, leg, ankle and foot pain and swelling, and Anaphylaxis are part of Wayne’s long list of health issues. He also has trouble with his shoulders and torn bicep tendons.