Explore Four Battlefield Structures During “Doors Open Gettysburg” on May 4


Explore Four Battlefield Structures During “Doors Open Gettysburg” on May 4

 Gettysburg, Pa.  – The fourth annual Doors Open Gettysburg event offers an insider’s look at the preservation and history of four magnificent battlefield and farm structures at Gettysburg National Military Park and Eisenhower National Historic Site. This free event is held during National Historic Preservation Month in cities and towns throughout the United States and internationally.

On May 4, from 10 am to 2 pm, the National Park Service will open four historic structures on the Gettysburg battlefield and the Eisenhower farm to the public for a rare look at buildings ranging from newly restored to those in need of repair. Visitors will be able to explore the Edward McPherson Barn; the Josiah Benner Barn; Meade’s Headquarters – the Lydia Leister Home; and the Eisenhower Show Barn.

“Doors Open Gettysburg highlights the park’s important historic preservation mission and the stories these buildings can tell,” said Kristina Heister, Acting Superintendent, Gettysburg National Military Park. “This event is a great opportunity for our community and park visitors to learn more about Gettysburg and how we take care of these resources.”

  •  Edward McPherson Barn: A landmark on the First Days Battlefield, the barn is the only surviving element of the Edward McPherson Farm. It was used as a field hospital and aide station during and after the fighting. Park along Stone and Meredith Avenue.

  •  Josiah Benner Barn: Recently rehabilitated by the National Park Service, this Pennsylvania Bank Barn was occupied by elements of both the Union and Confederate armies on July 1, 1863. Park in the gravel driveway between the Benner House and Barn, Old Harrisburg Road.

  •  Meade’s Headquarters - The Lydia Leister Home: Home of the widow Lydia Leister and her children, the two-room structure became the Headquarters of the Union Army of the Potomac. General George G. Meade held his famous “Council of War” here on the evening of July 2, 1863. Park in the National Cemetery Parking Lot, or along Hancock Avenue.

  •  Eisenhower Show Barn: Often the first stop for international dignitaries visiting the Farm, President Eisenhower used his award winning Black Angus cattle to create a friendly atmosphere for conversation with foreign leaders such as Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev and French President Charles De Gaulle.  Enter from Red Rock Rd and park in the gravel parking lot. 

Please note that the buildings are not wheelchair accessible. No tickets or reservations are necessary for Doors Open Gettysburg. The event is free.

Click here for Web Version with map


Gettysburg NMP - new acting superintendent through August

Kristina Heister.jpg

Kristina Heister has arrived as the acting superintendent of Gettysburg National Military Park and Eisenhower National Historic Site. She will serve in this position until approximately August 10, 2019.

  Heister currently serves as the Superintendent of the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River, a unit of the National Park Service that extends 73.4 miles along the Delaware River from Hancock NY to Port Jervis NY.  

“I am very appreciative of the opportunity to serve as acting superintendent for Gettysburg National Military Park and Eisenhower National Historic Site. I feel truly honored to assist, even for a short time, with the protection of sites that are so important to the preservation of the United States, telling the American story, and that are loved and treasured by the American people” said Heister. “I look forward to working with my NPS colleagues, park visitors, partners and the local community.”

Heister began her National Park Service career as a biologist at Valley Forge National Historical Park (NHP) in Pennsylvania. Since then she has served in a variety of natural resource management positions in parks and regions throughout the country, including Appomattox Court House NHP. In her next NPS post, she spent six years with the inventory and monitoring program working collaboratively to design a long-term monitoring program for parks in the Great Basin and Mojave Desert. In 2006, she returned to Valley Forge NHP as the chief of natural resources where she led an interdisciplinary effort to develop a highly controversial White-tailed Deer Management Plan and created a complex network of partnerships that integrated work with local non-profit organizations, youth programs, volunteerism, teachers and students.

Heister also served as the Chief of Natural Resources for the Northeast Region between 2012 and 2014, where she led a multidisciplinary team of subject matter experts to promote science-based management in parks and increased park involvement in decision-making.

  Heister graduated in 1989 with a bachelor’s of science in biology from Salisbury State University and received her masters of science in wildlife and fisheries science in 1995 from The Pennsylvania State University.

Gettysburg National Military Park preserves, protects and interprets for this and future generations the resources associated with the 1863 Battle of Gettysburg, during the American Civil War, the Soldiers' National Cemetery, and their commemorations. Learn more at www.nps.gov/gett

Eisenhower National Historic Site preserves and interprets the home and farms of the Eisenhower family as a fitting and enduring memorial to the life, work, and times of General Dwight David Eisenhower, 34th president of the United States, and to the events of far-reaching importance that occurred on the property. Learn more at www.nps.gov/eise


Gettysburg NMP plans prescribed fire in a portion of the battlefield in April


Gettysburg National Military Park plans prescribed fire in the southern portion of the battlefield in April


Gettysburg, PA – Gettysburg National Military Park fire managers are preparing for a prescribed fire on one day during April, weather permitting. The plans call for burning portions of a 117 acre burn unit between the Slyder Lane and South Confederate Avenue. Fuel and weather conditions must be within certain parameters and that will determine the exact date for the operation. Prescribed fires allow fire managers to conduct a safe burn under optimal conditions with sufficient resources available to meet specific objectives for the management of battlefield resources. Gettysburg’s overall objectives are to maintain the conditions of the battlefield as experienced by the soldiers who fought here; perpetuate the open space character of the landscape; maintain wildlife habitat; control exotic invasive species; reduce shrub and woody species components; and reduce fuels in wooded areas to reduce fire hazard.

Temporary Road and Trail Closures Planned

During the prescribed fire, South Confederate Avenue will be closed. Closures may last two or three days. Pedestrian and equestrian trails located within the burn area will also be closed. Additional roads, trails and areas may be closed temporarily if smoke conditions reduce visibility to a level that would cause visibility problems and public and firefighter safety concerns. Up-to-date information on this and any other closures and fire activity will be posted on the park's web and social media sites.

The timing of the prescribed fire is dependent on conditions being within required weather parameters such as wind, temperature, and relative humidity. The prescribed fire will be conducted from approximately late morning through the afternoon, followed by patrol and monitoring to ensure the fire is completely out. A combination of lawn-sprinklers, hoses, mowed lines, and fire engines will be used to create a buffer and fire break to protect monuments and other cultural resources in the burn area. National Park Service staff will monitor air quality and smoke impacts as well as visibility on nearby roads.

Visit our Planning web page for more information about our Fire Management Plan.

Jason Martz
Visual Information Specialist

Public Information Officer (acting)

Gettysburg National Military Park

Office: 717-338-4423

Cell: 571-358-0516

More than a century later, a soldier’s Civil War flag returns to Maine


More than a century later, a soldier’s Civil War flag returns to Maine
Portland Press Herald 
Link to original article

 A rare American flag that was flown during the Civil War has returned to its roots and will soon be on display at a military history museum in Maine.

“It’s tattered to pieces, but beautiful,” said Lee Humiston, the founder, director, and curator of the Maine Military Museum in South Portland.

The flag, which has 35 stars, belonged to Major James H. Whitmore, a native New Englander who fought with the 15th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment in the Civil War. It arrived at the museum on March 9, according to the Portland Press Herald.

Whitmore was a commander of Company B of the 15th regiment, which was organized in 1861 and saw action in Florida, Louisiana, and Texas.

“They were the first unit to hit the ground in Texas,” Humiston said in a telephone interview.

According to an obituary in The Boston Globe, Whitmore served with Major General Benjamin Butler in New Orleans and Major General Nathaniel P. Banks at the Red River expedition, which was a series of battles that took place along the Red River in Louisiana.

Whitmore was born in Bowdoinham, a town about 30 miles north of Portland, and worked as a teacher for “some years” before he moved to Massachusetts and settled in Lynn, where he “followed his trade as an expert mason” and also worked as an inspector, the Globe reported.

After Whitmore died in February 1896, his daughter inherited his American flag, and then she passed it on to her nephew, George Meshko. The keepsake from Whitmore’s war years became a cherished family heirloom, and very well could have remained out of public view for years to come.

But that changed when Humiston got a phone call from the son-in-law of Whitmore’s great-grandson. He told Humiston that the flag was in Denver, Colorado and the family wanted to bring it back to Whitmore’s native state.

Lee Humiston of the Maine Military Museum receives flag from the Civil War that he says was the first to fly over Texas shores. The flag belonged to Major James H. Whitmore of the Fifteenth Maine Regiment.  Staff photo by Derek Davis

Lee Humiston of the Maine Military Museum receives flag from the Civil War that he says was the first to fly over Texas shores. The flag belonged to Major James H. Whitmore of the Fifteenth Maine Regiment. Staff photo by Derek Davis

Humiston said Whitmore “lived a good part of his life” in Maine, and the family told him the flag should “come home.”

That was back in November. After agreeing to donate the flag to the museum, they then began figuring out the logistics of getting the precious flag from Colorado to Maine.

The flag measures about five-and-a-half feet tall and seven-and-a-half feet wide, and one shipping company quoted them a price of $50,000 to fly the flag to Maine, according to Humiston.

“It’s gigantic,” he said.

The family ultimately ended up paying close to $900 to put the flag in a protective crate and an additional $2,000 to ship it by truck from Colorado, he said.

“The crate weighed 480 pounds,” Humiston said. “Nothing was going to happen to that flag.”

The truck began its cross-country journey with its patriotic cargo on March 1 and it arrived at the museum eight days later, he said.

“It got here safe and sound,” he said.

Joyce Huntley, 92, of Dunedin, Fla., said she’s happy that her great-grandfather’s flag is in the museum where it can be viewed by all. It was very special to her great-grandfather.

“The flag was always with him,” she said. “It went through thick and thin with him.”

The flag will be put on display at the Maine Military Museum along with some Civil War rifles and a picture of Whitmore. History buffs who would like to see it for themselves are welcome to visit the museum any weekend between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. (from Memorial Day to Veterans Day the museum will be open six days a week, Tuesday through Sunday).

Humiston said the flag is the only intact Civil War artifact from the 15th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment that he’s ever seen.

“It’s a beauty,” he said.

The descendents of Whitmore are pleased to share this piece of family history with the museum, and relieved that the flag is back in Whitmore’s home state of Maine.

“Our flag has come home,” said Huntley.

Penn State Lehigh Valley - Five@Five (Lectures on the American Civil War)


Spring 2019 Lecture Topic

The Five @ Five Lecture Series features five one-and-a-half-hour lectures on a given subject in order to provide an in-depth look at the topic. This spring the topic will be The American Civil War presented by David M. Longenbach, lecturer in history at Penn State Lehigh Valley. In this five part series we'll explore the military campaigns of the Civil War from the firing on Fort Sumter to the surrender at Appomattox Court House. Join us for this exciting examination of America’s bloodiest conflict.

May 8: 1861: A Year of Rebellion

May 15: 1862: Blood and Indecision

May 22: 1863: The Year of Decision

May 29: 1864: The North Assertive

June 5: 1865: The Naval War, Technology, & Aftermath

Schedule & Cost


Lectures will be held from 5:00-6:30 p.m. on Wednesday evenings from May 8-June 5, 2019 in room 311B. 


$59 per person

Registration is required for all of these lifetime learning opportunities. Contact Jessica Kemmerer at 610-285-5133 or jlb995@psu.edu.

Sheridan’s 1864 Shenandoah Campaign ~ April 10-13, 2019  The Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation’s Civil War Conference


National Conference: Sheridan’s 1864 Shenandoah Campaign

  April 10-13, 2019

Front Royal, Virginia

 The Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation’s 4th Annual National Civil War Conference will focus on Sheridan’s 1864 Shenandoah Campaign, the largest and costliest campaign ever fought in the Valley. The conference will include talks, programs, special events, and tours of Third Winchester, Fisher’s Hill, and Cedar Creek – all featuring the finest historians in the nation.

Guides and speakers (pictured below) will include Gary Ecelbarger, Caroline E. Janney, Robert K. Krick, William J. Miller, Jonathan A. Noyalas, Scott C. Patchan, Ralph Peters, Nicholas P. Picerno, Keven M. Walker and Jeffry D. Wert.  (For biographies of the guides and speakers, click here.)

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Tuesday (April 9, 2019)          

  • Early check-in (evening)

Wednesday (April 10, 2019)   

  • 6:30am-7:45am: Buffet Breakfast

  • 8am–6pm: Bus Tour – “A Perfect Sheet of Lead”: The Third Battle of Winchester – Tour of sites related to the largest and costliest battle ever fought in the Valley – the epic, day-long struggle of September 19, 1864, that changed the course of the war. Tour will range from the first shots on Opequon Creek to the chaotic scenes of the battle “whirling through Winchester.” Lunch included. Guides: Gary Ecelbarger and Scott Patchan.

  • 7pm-9pm – Evening Reception and Special Exhibit – Featuring rare Third Winchester artifacts from the Nicholas Picerno Collection

Thursday (April 11, 2019)

  • 6:30am-7:45am: Buffet Breakfast

  • 8am-6pm: Bus Tour – “Like a Western Cyclone”: The Battle of Fisher’s Hill – Tour of sites related to the Union victory of September 21-22, 1864, where a flank attack by the Army of West Virginia crashed into the Confederates and helped unhinge the southern line. Tour will include both well-known and rarely-visited sites throughout the picturesque battlefield. Lunch included. Guides: Gary Ecelbarger and Scott Patchan.

  • Open Evening. Tour Front Royal on your own.

Friday (April 12, 2019)

  • 7:30am-9:00am: Buffet Breakfast

  • 9am-5pm: Speaker’s Programs: “Sheridan’s 1864 Shenandoah Campaign”

    • Introduction: “The Valley of Humiliation and a Presidency at Risk” – Keven M. Walker

    • “No Mimic About It: Battles from August 17-September 18, 1864” – Scott C. Patchan

    • “The Confederate Pattons” – Robert K. Krick

    • “’Faded…From the Memory’: The Meaning and Legacy of Fisher’s Hill” – Jonathan A. Noyalas.  Exploring how veterans of the Army of the Shenandoah viewed the Union victory, how the victory buoyed spirits of Union soldiers in the war’s other theaters, the impact of the defeat on Confederate morale, and the ways Fisher’s Hill became a stage for postwar healing among former foes

    • “Cold Blood: Cavalrymen, Civilians and the Burning” – William J. Miller

    • “When ‘Old Jube’ Lost Cedar Creek” – Jeffry D. Wert.  Focusing on the critical moments in the Cedar Creek engagement, and arguing when the battle turned in favor of the Federals

    • “After Appomattox: How Mosby’s 1864 Raids Shaped the War’s End” – Caroline E. Janney.  Covering the activities of Confederate Col. John Mosby and his Rangers in the fall of 1864 – including Front Royal – and how those events informed Union efforts to capture Mosby after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox.

    • Concluding Remarks – “The Impacts and Legacy of Sheridan’s Campaign” – Keven M. Walker

  • Alternate Friday Daytime Program: Companions Tours (9am-5pm):  A special alternate option for Friday.  Start the day with coffee in downtown Front Royal before heading a few blocks over to visit the Belle Boyd Cottage, home of Confederate spy Belle Boyd, the Warren Rifles Confederate Museum, and other Civil War sites. Lunch will be in Middletown at the popular Wayside Inn, after which we will take in the scenery of Belle Grove Plantation before finishing the afternoon with a garden tour and tasting at the Backroom Brewery on Sunflower Cottage Herb Farm!  To register, or for more information, call Kirsten Kauling at 540-740-4545.

  • 7pm-9pm: Dinner and program with Ralph Peters  – Dinner featuring special program with historian and author Ralph Peters, “Civil War in Revolutionary Times: Change and the Challenge of Leadership”

Saturday (April 13, 2019)

  • 6:30am-7:45am: Buffet Breakfast

  • 8am-6pm: Bus Tour – “The Most Remarkable Battle”: The Battle of Cedar Creek – Tour of sites related to the climactic battle of the campaign, where the stunning Confederate success of the morning was dramatically reversed into a decisive Union victory in the afternoon. Tour will follow the ebb and flow of the battle while visiting both celebrated locations and little-known gems. Lunch included. Guides: Gary Ecelbarger and Scott Patchan.

  • 7pm: Closing Dinner – A festive closing event that will include dinner, a look back at the conference, and a major announcement about SVBF Plans for 2020. Hosted by SVBF CEO Keven Walker.

Please Note:  Times and other details subject to change.

Pricing and Registration:

Full Conference (April 10-13, 2019)
SVBF Members: $425
Non-Members: $475*
* If you would like to become a member to receive a discount on the conference, and many other perks, CLICK HERE to view our membership program.


Per Day Options:
Wednesday (April 10, 2019) – $125.00
Thursday (April 11, 2019) – $110.00
Friday (April 12, 2019) – $125.00
Saturday (April 13, 2019) – $125.00


 Prefer to mail in your registration?  Click here to download a registration form that you can print, complete, and mail to SVBF, P.O. Box 897, New Market, VA 22844.


 Host Site and Lodging:

The conference will be headquartered at the Holiday Inn Blue Ridge Shadows Front Royal, located at 111 Hospitality Drive, Front Royal, Virginia.

A block of rooms has been set aside for conference guests for the evenings of April 9-13.  The cost for rooms in this block is $109 per night for a standard executive room with 1 king bed or 2 queen beds, and $139 per night for a king or queen suite.

The phone number for the hotel is (540) 631-3050.  To reach the hotel website, click here.

 Questions or Need More Information?

Call the SVBF at 540-740-4545 or email info@svbf.net.

National Park Service Awards Over $1.5 Million To Protect Battlefield Sites

visit National Parks Traveler - https://www.nationalparkstraveler.org/

visit National Parks Traveler - https://www.nationalparkstraveler.org/

National Park Service Awards Over $1.5 Million To Protect Battlefield Sites

From National Parks Traveler

By NPT Staff on February 8th, 2019

The National Park Service announced $1,528,588 in grants from the American Battlefield Protection Program (ABPP) to help protect 280 acres of America’s battlefields in West Virginia, 72 acres of Civil War battlefields in Virginia, as well as 51 acres of Civil War battlefields in North Carolina threatened with damage or destruction by urban and suburban development.

West Virginia

This $613,930 grant will be used to acquire a portion of the Summit Point Battlefield, a significant Civil War site.

“Some of the most defining moments in our nation’s history were decided by conflicts that played out on hallowed grounds like this battlefield,” National Park Service Deputy Director P. Daniel Smith said. “In partnership with local communities and the Public Land Trust of the Eastern Panhandle, this grant will help preserve this battlefield for future generations.”

The Battle of Summit Point occurred on August 21, 1864, between Union forces under Major General Philip Sheridan and Confederate forces under Lieutenant General Jubal A. Early and Major General Richard Anderson. As Union forces gathered near Charles Town, W.V., early in Sheridan’s Shenandoah Valley Campaign, Early and Anderson attacked with two converging columns moving north and east, but Sheridan’s troops successfully withdrew to Halltown.

North Carolina

The $166,360 grants will be used to acquire portions of the Averasborough and Bentonville Battlefields, which are both significant Civil War Battlefields. The North Carolina grant is administered in partnership with local communities and the American Battlefield Trust.

The Battle of Averasborough occurred on March 16, 1865 and was the prelude to the climactic Battle of Bentonville, the other North Carolina recipient of a Battlefield Land Acquisition Grant. At the Battle of Averasborough, Confederate forces under General Hardee slowed the advance of a portion of Union Major General William T. Sherman’s army north from Fayetteville. This action enabled Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston to amass a larger force at Bentonville.

The Battle of Bentonville, the last battle between the armies of Sherman and Johnston, occurred from March 19-21, 1865 and resulted in Johnston’s surrender almost a month later on April 26 at Bennett Place near present day Durham, N.C.


The $748,298 in grants will be used to acquire portions of the Fisher’s Hill and Opequon Battlefields of the Civil War. The Virginia grant is administered in partnership with local communities and the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation.

The Battle of Opequon occurred on September 19, 1864 between Confederate forces under Lieutenant General Jubal A. Early and Union forces under Major General Philip H. Sheridan. Considered the most important battle of Sheridan’s Shenandoah Valley Campaign, Union forces halted the Confederate advance and pushed them out of the city of Winchester in what came to be known as “whirling through Winchester.”

The Battle of Fisher’s Hill, the last battle of campaign, occurred immediately after the Battle of Opequon, from September 21-22, 1864. Fisher’s Hill resulted in the complete retreat of Confederate forces out of the Shenandoah Valley allowing Sheridan to control the entire region.

The Battlefield Land Acquisition Grant Program is administered by the ABPP, one of more than a dozen programs operated by the National Park Service that provide states and local communities technical assistance, recognition, and funding to help preserve their own history and create close-to-home recreation opportunities. Consideration for the battlefield land acquisition grants is given to battlefields listed in the National Park Service’s Civil War Sites Advisory Commission’s 1993 “Report on the Nation’s Civil War Battlefields” and the ABPP’s 2007 “Report to Congress on the Historic Preservation of Revolutionary War and War of 1812 Sites in the United States”.

Grants are awarded to units of state and local governments for the fee simple acquisition of land, or for the non-federal acquisition of permanent, protective interests in land easements. Private non-profit groups may apply in partnership with state or local government sponsors.

The grants are funded from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which uses revenue from federal oil and gas leases on the Outer Continental Shelf to purchase land, water and wetlands for the benefit of all Americans. Since its establishment in 1964, LWCF has conserved land in every state and supported tens of thousands of state and local projects, including the protection of important water sources, expansion of access for hunting and fishing, preservation of historic battlefields, and creation of ball fields and recreational areas.

1619: The Story of America’s First Documented Africans


1619: The Story of America’s First Documented Africans
Speaker - Ric Murphy,  Author and Educator 
Sunday, February 24, 2019 at 3:00 PM -

La Mott Community Center, 7420 Sycamore Ave., La Mott, PA 19027

Citizens for the Restoration of Historical La Mott (CROHL) invite you to come and hear Ric Murphy. Ric is the National Vice President for History for the Afro-American Historical Genealogical Society, Inc., Author, and Educator. He will speak about 1619: The Story of America’s First Documented Africans. In 2019, Americans will celebrate the commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the first recorded Africans in English North America. In early records, these men, women, and children were known as the “20 odd” Africans. They arrived in late August 1619 at Point Comfort, along the James River. This talk will offer details, documentation, and importance of the history to communities nationwide.

Kerry Bryan will be in attendance as Lucretia Mott.

Joe Becton, Antoine Watts, and Crystal Kem, musicians and USCT re-enactors, will a sing-along of Civil War era music. 

This is a free event. Donations are welcome.

For more information, or in case of severe weather conditions, call 215-885-2258, or email pt@usct.org

Court Rules ‘Blue Water’ Vietnam Veterans Are Eligible for Agent Orange Benefits

Sailors had long been excluded from health benefits related to the dioxin-tainted herbicide the military spread during the war


By Jason Daley


Between 1961 and 1971, the U.S. military spread about 20 million gallons of herbicide across 4.5 million acres of the Vietnamese countryside, as well as parts of Laos and Cambodia. The devastating mission, dubbed Operation Ranch Hand, used various herbicides in an effort to defoliate the forest, making hidden enemies easier to spot, and to destroy food crops used by the North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong. Each herbicide was denoted by a specific color and named after the markings on their barrels. Among them, History.com details, there were Agent Green, Agent Purple, Agent Pink, Agent White and Agent Blue. But the most common 55-gallon drum found on military bases was Agent Orange, which came in various strengths and made up about two-thirds of the herbicides spread during the war.

In 1991, veterans of the Vietnam War won a major victory with the passage of the Agent Orange Act, which acknowledged that these powerful herbicides were strongly linked to various cancers and other diseases later in life. The bill authorized special health benefits to those exposed to the chemicals. But the act was interpreted by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to cover only those who spent time on the ground in Vietnam or serving on its river system, excluding “blue water” Navy personnel serving on ships off the coast. Now, reports Quil Lawrence at NPR, a Federal Court has ruled those veterans are eligible for the benefits as well.

Court papers show that the U.S. knew that the herbicides weren’t just harmful to plants at least two years before it stopped using Agent Orange in Vietnam in 1971. The byproduct of the manufacturing process, a dioxin called 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin or TCDD was found in large concentrations in Agent Orange and other herbicides. Dioxins accumulate in fatty tissues, and can last for hundreds or thousands of years, contaminating areas for generations and can lead to cancer even in small doses.

Soon after the war, some veterans began noticing higher cancer rates and other illnesses. In 1979, a group filed a class-action lawsuit against the chemical companies on behalf of 2.4 million service members who were exposed to it. After years of legal wrangling, the Supreme Court validated a $240 million settlement that would go to some sick veterans or their next of kin in 1988. But the exposure to Agent Orange was a lifetime risk, and the government acknowledged that many more veterans would likely develop diseases related to dioxin exposure for decades to come. That led to a 1991 bill which directed the Veteran’s Administration to treat diseases caused by Agent Orange exposure as the result of wartime service, meaning the government would foot the bill for treatment.

In implementing the act, the VA did not require direct evidence of Agent Orange exposure, but worked under the presumption that service personnel who served anywhere in Vietnam were exposed, Charles Ornstein at ProPublica reported in 2015. But there was one catch—veterans had to have literally set foot on Vietnamese soil or sail on its inland waterways, which excluded those serving at sea or at Air Force bases outside the country.

After several years of political pressure, in June 2017, 1,500 to 2,100 troops who served as flight and ground crews for the C-123 aircraft that sprayed Agent Orange were finally added to the benefit roles. But the VA did not relent when it came to the blue water sailors, arguing that there was no evidence of exposure to those at sea, despite recent reports that showed how sailors could have been exposed via their drinking water and laundry.

That’s one reason 73-year-old Alfred Procopio Jr., who served on the aircraft carrier USS Intrepid during the war, filed an Agent Orange claim after he developed prostate cancer and diabetes mellitus.

The VA initially denied him aid because he had not actually set foot on Vietnam, but the Court of Appeals's new ruling found that the 1991 law was intended to cover everyone who served in Vietnam, not just ground troops. “Mr. Procopio, who served in the territorial sea of the ‘Republic of Vietnam,’ is entitled to [the law's] presumption. We find no merit in the government's arguments to the contrary,” the 9-2 decision reads.

“The government's foot-on-land requirement, first articulated in 1997, does not provide a basis to find ambiguity in the language Congress chose,” Judge Kimberly Moore ruled in the majority opinion.

Lawrence at NPR reports that Congress had taken up the issue before, and a bill to cover the sailors passed the House last year but a Senate bill stalled.

“These Vietnam veterans sacrificed their own health and well-being for the good of the country, and the benefits that Congress provided — and which the court’s decision now secures — are part of the debt of gratitude we owe them for their service,” Mel Bostwick, one of Procopio’s attorneys said in a statement, reports Ann E. Marimow at The Washington Post.

Nikki Wentling at Stars and Stripes reports that the VA could appeal the decision to the Supreme Court, but there’s no indication yet what the agency will do.

Ornstein at ProPublica reported some 650,000 veterans had made Agent Orange claims at the time of his 2015 reporting. It’s estimated that the new change will make 50,000 to 70,000 additional veterans eligible for Agent Orange benefits.

Veterans and their offspring— whom research indicates may also have been put at risk by their parent’s exposure—are not the only ones suffering from the long-lasting contaminant. On study estimates that 2.1 to 4.8 million Vietnamese people were directly exposed to the chemical during the war. The compound has lingered in the countryside ever since, making its way into food and water, which has caused a multi-generational health crisis and an environmental catastrophe that is still unfolding to this day.

Read more: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/court-rules-navy-personnel-eligible-agent-orange-benefits-180971389/#lXKPldQRaM5ZUBMR.99