I have written about how my father was a Marine who served 19 months at Camp LeJeune, North Carolina. This service during the Vietnam War is what exposed my mother and myself to the toxic base water. One sees the ads for Camp LeJeune lawsuits all over the TV today, but there are so many stories.
Before my Dad joined the Marines and exposed my mom to military toxins, he was a meat cutter from 1964 to 1967. He started working there at the age of 17, apparently. You can see this in his USMC records at age 19:
Somehow, recruiting a meat cutter to be a Marine and go fight in Vietnam has a certain sense to it.
What doesn’t make sense is employing someone below the age of 18 to work with “knives, saws, and meat hooks.”
I am a lawyer today and I struggle against judges and courts who are as desensitized to injustice as a meat cutter is to blood and bone chips.
It is hard to blame my father in 1967 for what the Marine Corps did in poisoning the water on the largest Marine Base on the East Coast. I do blame him for not believing it when Marines of higher rank than him like Jerry Ensminger (E-8 Master Sergeant) discovered that toxic water poisoned and killed their family members.
Jerry Ensminger now has a federal lawsuit for the leukemia and death of his daughter Jane. He claims $50,000,000 under the new Camp LeJeune Justice Act of 2022. He rightly values his daughter that much. My mother also will have such a lawsuit for about the same amount. I value her that much. She died of her Camp LeJeune cancer in 1997, while I was in law school.
As if to punctuate the irony, fate had it that she was diagnosed with cancer the same month I received my acceptance letter to attend Indiana University-Maurer School of Law in December 1994. She had her mastectomy just a few months before I matriculated. She went swiftly downhill and died my second year of law school. This while I was studying the “justice” that was wholly absent from our lives from 1968 forwards.
My mother had mental illness and severe migraines from her Camp LeJeune poisoning, just like me and my younger brother. I used to miss a great deal of school because the schools used fluorescent lights that made me sick. It has always bothered me that otherwise sensitive greenies push fluorescent lights to save energy when this has a horrible impact on people who get migraines. Waste a little energy, people. If you have ever had a migraine, you know that energy is less important.
When my father returned from Vietnam, he was discharged from the Marine Corps and bought the butcher shop where he used to work. It was called the “Community Locker” because it doubled as a butcher shop and a deep freeze storage locker facility. Members of the community would rent the lockers and put their meat and fruits and vegetables in there.
This was extremely hard work for my father. I remember him lifting sides of beef weighing hundreds of pounds off of meat hooks and onto his cutting table. You can see the table in this photo of me and him, circa 1972:
It turns out, it ruined his spine and caused him to need spinal fusion surgery at the age of 38.
So, my life started with poisoning and illness. But when I got older, my father groomed me for his butcher shop, where he spent most of his time.
My first job was working in that butcher shop, cleaning the knives, saws, and machine parts (sharp!) at the age of 13. This was 4 years younger than when my father began working there, and I learned to be careful with sharp objects because there were extreme consequences to being inattentive. Quite an awful job to be paid less than minimum wage at age 13. $3 per hour. Sometimes he asked me to clean the band saw that by the end of the day was full of rotten meat. When I opened it, I vomited. He said, “yeah, that happens to me too.” Great, Dad. I needed to know that before I opened it!
Today, I know that it is illegal to employ someone to work in a butcher shop at that age. A major scandal erupted in February 2023, with 100 underage workers cleaning slaughterhouses and their saws and cutting implements.
My father’s butcher shop was lit with fluorescent lights that triggered my migraines, and I often had a migraine after I was done for the day. Also, the freezer lockers were maintained at 0°F. I spent hours cleaning the freezer lockers and removing the frost from the refrigeration coils. This long exposure to extreme cold, like being outside at the North Pole, was likely the cause of the pneumonia I contracted at 13. I ended up choking on my own lungs in a hospital in another county.
I learned a great deal from my U.S. Marine Corps father. I learned that the environment is more important than a dollar or national pride. That toxic environment will be suffering long after the United States is a distant memory, two thousand years from now.
Vietnam to me was not about capitalism fighting communism. It was about desperate soldiers fighting for their lives in a country that really didn’t matter to them, and so they were willing to dump millions of gallons of Agent Orange to protect themselves and destroy the jungle, leaving a swath of environmental suffering unparalleled in human history that continues today. Both Vietnamese children and the children of veterans suffer from Agent Orange:
How can a man who would expose his 13-year old son to sharp knives and meat processing machines be expected to care about toxins in another country that his helicopters spread to “protect” him?
And when the Camp LeJeune toxins finally became public knowledge, that same butcher who exposed me to rotten meat could not handle the concept of his U.S. Marine Corps poisoning his wife and child. He did not want to feel responsible, so he denied that it happened.
He denied it while Congress was passing legislation to provide health care for the victims. 38 U.S.C. § 1787. He denied it when the VA started offering benefits to Camp LeJeune veterans. One veteran received $1.1 million in 2021 for his bladder cancer.
And while I was working day and night trying to contact every member of Congress to pass the Camp LeJeune Justice Act of 2022, my father sat back and did not lift a finger. Not one phone call. Not one email. Not one fax. And when it passed the U.S. House, my stepmother exclaimed, “don’t get your hopes up.”
When it passed both houses by a large enough margin to pass a constitutional amendment, she started attacking the lawyers who then advertised for Camp LeJeune victim clients. She called the lawyers who spent hundreds of millions of dollars of their own money informing the victims when the government would not, “ambulance chasers.”
There is no winning when someone lies to themselves and cannot get out of that habit, to the detriment of their entire family.
The Vietnam War was founded on a lie, but Agent Orange was very real. Camp LeJeune poisoning was the truth. Meat is bad for you and should mostly be avoided for good health. Children should not work in meat processing facilities or freezers.
It’s like every bit of good sense got turned on its head because some organization profited from the bad thinking. The United States, the Marine Corps, arms dealers, chemical companies, meat processing companies, Marines and butchers.
Children pay the price.
The Hippies were right, just like the peace churches have said. War is good for nothing. Many Hippies became vegetarians. They were right too.
After poisoning people and denying it for 69 years at home and abroad contrary to the very foundations of constitutional and human rights, the Marine Corps cannot be said to protect democracy. It does not. All Marines do is fight who they are told to fight. These people are not civil rights leaders like MLK Jr., Gandhi, or Mandela. Instead, they are murderers like all militaries with dangerous weapons and chemicals and less constitutional restrictions than town police. There is nothing heroic about being placed somewhere dangerous for God knows what reason (usually corporate profit) and then killing people before they kill you. U.S. Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler explains: