(KTTC) -- On Memorial Day, the Owatonna community laid to rest Vietnam veteran Alfred Procopio. The Navy veteran was well known for his lawsuit that allowed more than 85,000 other veterans access to much needed health care and financial support due to Agent Orange exposure.
"There is no doubt in my military mind that Agent Orange is what killed him," said John B. Wells, Procopio's attorney and the Chairman of the Military Veterans Authority. "He didn't die in combat, he died because of combat. He is no less a hero and no less a casualty of the war and it's time that we set out and recognize that."
Agent Orange is a herbicide was used by American forces during the Vietnam War to defoliate forests and deplete the crops of the guerrilla opposition. It contained the toxic chemical dioxin, which can cause cancer and other life-threatening illnesses.
Though originally only land-based troops qualified for this compensation, it was later found during Procopio's case that Agent Orange contaminated the drinking water of naval ships through runoff after the chemical was sprayed on land. The chemical in the contaminated seawater was actually enriched by the onboard saltwater distillation systems.
Candice Gruhl, a Rochester resident who became a widow due to cancer she says was caused by Agent Orange, also noted Procopio's passing.
"He also served his country, and he's been recognized by the military that he was hurt. Even though he did not die in combat, he paid the ultimate price in the end," said Gruhl.
Gruhl's late husband, a Marine, was honored in November 2020. She says the recognition of his service and that he needed help to fight Agent Orange-inflicted illness meant the world to him.
"Just acknowledging that was what made Gary feel honored, recognized," said Gruhl.