A Camp Lejeune Tragedy

Mary is the youngest of four children. She and her two sisters and brother were all conceived, born, and raised on military bases all over the world as is typical of many military “brats”. Mary was born in a Naval Hospital in Pensacola, Florida and her three siblings were born in Twenty Nine Palms, California.

Mary’s saw her extended family on visits while on leave between transfers to duty stations and although they were kin, they never felt like family. The precious leave time on road trips every three years was barely time for Mary to get to know her blood relatives. Instead Mary had her other family, the neighbors and friends that were around her in the Marine Corps housing areas.

These people were viewed as family. They lived next door. They picked her up when she fell off her bike; patched her up after a fight; took her to church; watched her go on her first date. Mary’s and her friends watched their fathers go to work in the Marine Corps uniform. The schools Mary attended taught her many songs but her favorite was the Marine’s Hymn. In fact Mary could belt out “From the Halls of Montezuma” before she could read.

Mary lived at Camp Lejeune more than once. Not unusual for many Marine families. Mary was there from 1967-1969 when she was a small child and again in 1976-1978 until her father retired. But then, Mary started to notice a series of illnesses in her immediate family and those who were at Camp Lejeune. Her oldest sister married a young Marine from Camp Lejuene in 1979. They tried to have a baby, but they lost two children early in pregnancy.

When pregnant for the third time her sister had a very difficult time of it but managed to give birth to a little boy. This charming child had a few birth defects but lived. Mary’s sister later married another man who was a Lejeune “brat” also and they had two more children both of whom have birth defects. Mary’s sister also has developed many ailments that added to the burden of ill children.

Mary’s other sister married a high school sweet heart and moved away with him after he joined the Army. She always had trouble learning. Mary recently learned that this sister is illiterate and cannot read or write. She also has a degenerative spine disease that has made it very difficult for her to walk.

As if that is not enough, Mary’s brother joined the Corps in the early 1980’s and was stationed at Camp Lejeune for a few years. Today he is 100% disabled with PTSD and lives with their father. To add even more suffering to Mary’s story, her mother was diagnosed with cancer in the fall of 1995 and was dead by August of 1996.

Sadly, this awful litany of illness and tragedy is the norm for those veterans and family members who were assigned to Camp Lejeune during the contamination periods. They are today paying the price for serving their country while living and working in an environment so polluted that the EPA listed it as a Superfund Site.

But Mary’s angst over illness was not confined to her family members. Mary herself endured many odd sorts of ailments while growing up one of which was a tumor the size of a fist on her left femur that was removed when Mary was seventeen. Fortunately the tumor was benign but did cause considerable painful and discomfort. She also had difficult time learning in school and has a significant short term memory problem. She has a hard time with finding her way around geographically and refers to herself as “directionally challenged”. The advent of GPS systems has made Mary’s life so much easier!

One day in September of 2009, Mary was watching CNN and noticed a story about a cluster of Male Breast Cancer survivors whose common link was being assigned to Camp Lejeune. Mary noted that one of the survivors lived near the neighborhood where Mary was raised. After watching the story she jumped on the computer and started learning about the extent of the water contamination. She then started to realize how it has affected her family in so many ways. Her frustration, anger and hurt by what she has learned make it difficult for Mary to express her feelings. Mary sees those who are keeping the truth from veterans and family members as not real Marines. She believes that they should be stripped of their ranks and charged criminally for their actions.

Mary loves the Marine Corps. It has been ingrained into her very being since she was a small child. She struggles with the concept that Marines and Marine leaders may have some culpability in the pain and suffering she has endured in her life, both personally and through watching her family members. Like many veterans and family members Mary wants the truth and will continue to fight in any way she can to see that truth come to light.

Mary still believes passionately in the Marine Corps motto “Semper Fidelis” which means “Always Faithful”. Mary and her family deserve answers and the truth because Mary has always been faithful to the Corps. It is time for the Marine Corps to be faithful to Mary and those like her who fight illness and suffering every day as a result of exposure to contamination. Mary is a person of great faith and her current feelings towards those who are hiding the truth is best summed up by Mary’s own words:

I know that one day they will be meeting some real Marines at the gates of Heaven who will personally be waiting to kick their butts . . .

As Martin Luther King once said “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

A disabling encounter with prostate and brain cancer put David Bedworth in a situation where he could not work and had limited abilities as a result of treatment. However, brain surgery stimulated a long dormant creative surge in literature, music and poetry. He contributed to The Student Operated Press and collaborated with his sister on a collection of illustrated poems. He also worked with a group of ill veterans and family members who were exposed to contaminants at the Marine Corps Base at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Sadly, he passed away, but his work remains, reminding us of the man he was.