The following is a personal story submitted to Civilian Exposure and published as part of our new series: “Contamination Chronicles: Personal Stories of Exposure”. If you would like to submit your story, you may fill out our form here or send directly via email to share-@-civilianexposure.org.
I am a survivor of the water treatment plant, water supply lines and sewage system so far as to say that I am still here to talk about my experience living on the base. Day in and day out, I dreaded the smell of the stream vapors that polluted the air that seem to get stronger all the time. I remember being sick to the stomach many of times and thought it was bad food or worse food poisoning. We all (Marines) ate at the Mess Hall, Chow Halls or daily eats enough to be sick for life.
Everyone complained about the drinking water, the taste of the prepared juice, and the food…to a point we jokingly called it garbage. We were all being poisoned daily and didn’t have any idea of what was going on. I personally had wanted to get out of the Marine Corps (discharged) for many reasons other than the polluted water and food we were served.
The living conditions alone was bad. It was peace time but you would have thought that we were at war and didn’t know who the enemy was and sometimes we were at war with each other. We were soldiers without a cause. If you were not in infantry, you trained to do some remedial civilian job not of your choice or expertise.
I wanted off the base. I trained on Paris Island as a recruit. The experience there was that of being a prisoner of war. The conditions were bad, the food was bad and the treatment was even worst. Behind closed doors there were acts of sexual molestation, physical punishment, bullying and death behind these acts gone unknown and unpunished. I witnessed a recruit plunging to his death from a 3rd floor balcony.
Some recruit planned and contemplated escape after the lights went out. We were often shown slides from a projector of the consequences you’d face in trying to escape. I can still remember the smell of the sewage plants around the base as well as the burning bite of the sand flee that feasted upon our flesh as if we were dead caucuses or corpse. We were punished severely for killing just one of them.
The training was not monitored by anyone. They did what ever and had the free reign to get there job done. We were volunteers. We were indeed dead meat. When and if you made it to graduation or was discharged for being a non hacker, you were made to feel reluctant and ashamed to share your experience. We were intimidated, afraid, punished and brainwashed. I lost my soul there. Everything was taken away from me.
I found a quiet place in my mind where I went for safety on a daily basis because I was singled out time and time again used as an example of the cruel punishment that you would receive if you didn’t fit in their Marine Corps. I was sexually assaulted, beat physically and PT’ed until I collapsed. At the point of wanting to commit suicide, I was taken out of one platoon and put in a unit for R&R and to be discharged. After getting away from the cruelty, speaking with the Chaplin and resting up for a week or better, I started thinking I was a failure and thought that if I went home it would be disgraceful. I decided to get back into training in another platoon where it wouldn’t be the same drill instructors. I could start over again. I wouldn’t be picked on and bullied as before.
I returned to boot camp training as if the drill instructors already had it in for me when I returned. I signed up to protect and serve my country and ended up nearly psychologically out of my mind. I graduated ‘Boot Camp’ and was sent home on leave for a week or two before I had to report for my next duty station. When I returned home I wasn’t the person that left home to serve and protect his country. I was converted into someone I didn’t know for myself. Everyone I encountered at home had the look of wonder on their faces. Because I could barely remember the last thing I did with them or who I was except that I used to be somebody they knew.
It was a nightmare I couldn’t wait to leave home to get away from them. Two days on leave I took a job at a gas station and worked until it was time for me to leave to go to my next duty station. After the school training I ended up at Camp lejuene N.C. my home and work place.
I served in ‘Hell’ the next 3 1/2 years, deprived of income, restricted to the barracks, reduced in rank and privileges and this was mainly brought on by ‘Article 15’s’ that I managed to get every time I turned around for one thing or the other. I was just a bad fit. It got to where I couldn’t get out of my own way. I receive a promotion one week and the following week I’d be demoted. I was confined to Camp Lejuene. Forced to eat & drink the food and water. I was given article 15 on a Bi-weekly basis for not making formation and/or being late getting to formation. I wanted to just go awol and maybe I could have gotten psychological help back then. The whole time I was in the military I never had enough money at one time to send anything home to my parents and much less to my future wife. I should have been a failure at ‘Boot Camp’ and I at least would have my health and sanity. And maybe a functional life that could have been repairable.
I spent (4 1/2) years rotting away like a house made of wood in rainy weather. I was enlisted, September 26, 1975 and Honorably discharged on February 20,1980 after being released from the Brig. Meaning imprisonment for being a good samaritan. I’ve had a hard time adjusting to being what I have become with the life that I was given ever sense my discharge. I was also given a reenlistment code of RE-4 to prevent me of being eligible from being in the reserves or reenlistment in another branch of the service. In essence I went away into the military and died.
On a happier note before all of these events took place in my life, life was good. I was a good kid and didn’t give my parents a hard time. My parent made due raising a growing family of (6) children in our household. I was the oldest of the six children which included my one sister & four brothers. i stayed out of trouble because I had to be an example for the rest. I was in charge when my parents were away to work. Most of the time one or the other parent was home because they worked different shifts. I played trumpet in my high school band and graduated ‘High School’ at the top 50 in the class of ‘1974’. My parents were really proud of me and so was my siblings and friends. I was accepted in College but wanted to stick around after graduation to help out with my family. I ended up taking a job where my father worked at ‘Bond’ bread company for starters and found working for “Gaudios” a lawn & garden home improvement chain that gave me pleasure and knowledge of using a forklift which I became very efficient at. the time went really fast and I started thinking about going away to college, applied and was accepted at ” New England Aeronautical Institute and Daniel Webster College” in New Hampshire. It was another exciting time in my life where I could have the chance to grow and explore the world through gaining a college education and become a pilot to boot.
I had it all planned out until the thought came to me to look out for my sister and let her have the opportunity to go to college with the funds that my parents had saved up for years to see me and my brother next to off to school. She would not have graduated from high school for another two years but the money would be there for her when the time came. So, without any more thought about my own future I joined, The Few, the Proud, the Marines. The recruiter had my life in his hands after I visited the recruitment office. So as to lock me in so I wouldn’t have a change of heart his gave me a scenario of the life I would have by joining and leaving three days later to make the next class of pilots to be trained. I knew nothing else. I was still a kid. I told my parents that I had done this for my family and my country.
AND NOW 37 YEARS LATER, I’m told I have cancer and because it was such a cover up about the “Camp Lejuene Water Contamination” my cancer of the liver, loss of gall bladder and weak kidney was not the effects of the water. I have a series of illnesses going on in my body and had (4) operations since my leaving the military. Am I to trust the VAMC and doctors there to keep me healthy or get me through this liver cancer ordeal?? So I guess that’s the end of my story.
With treatment, I get to die again for enlisting in the military.
Note from the Editor: The author currently resides in Pennsylvania. The account/editorial is verbatim from the author without edit, with only the omission of their name to preserve anonymity.