By LLOYD WATERS
January 13, 2013
When a young man or woman makes a decision to enter military service, they do so for a lot of reasons. They know, however, that this commitment means protecting American freedoms like many generations before them have done.
Some of them might sacrifice their lives; some might experience lifetime injuries; and some might suffer mental scars.
Thirty years ago, while working at a prison south of Hagerstown, I met a correctional officer named Jack E. Padgett. Jack was a tall, lanky and likeable fellow from South Carolina. I often enjoyed comparing military stories with him.
He was in the Marine Corps for many years, and I can imagine that he was a very good Marine.
As I have a daily tendency to look for old friends in the obituary section of the newspaper, I found Jack’s name listed there in October.
When I contacted his brother in South Carolina to offer my condolences to the family, I learned that Jack had died peacefully at home.
As I recalled from our conversations, I believe Jack told me that he did some training at Camp Lejeune, N.C.
I remembered, too, that the water on the military base at Camp Lejeune was discovered to be filled with many cancer-causing toxins. Anyone who was there for 30 days between Jan. 1, 1957, and Dec. 31, 1987, might have been exposed to this contaminated water and resulting diseases.
The number of people potentially connected to these dangerous toxins at Camp Lejeune for the identified period is somewhere between 750,000 and 1 million.
Many veterans today are unaware of their military rights with regard to benefits for themselves and their surviving family members.
President Obama recently signed a bill that would provide some compensation for those Camp Lejeune vets in the form of medical care for certain cancers and for other related medical problems.
Vietnam, too, has a long history with regard to the use of contaminated materials.
The enemy in Vietnam traveled and fought in the jungles. One way to destroy the enemy was to destroy the jungles.
Agent Orange, filled with many dioxins, was one chemical chosen for this purpose. Some 50,000 tons of Agent Orange was used to spray millions of acres of jungles in Vietnam.
It is difficult for me to imagine that our military leaders did not consider the possible harmful side effects of these chemicals on our own troops.
I heard a young woman say recently, with some insensitivity, that soldiers who served in Vietnam claim that everything is caused by Agent Orange.
When I heard this, I said a prayer for her young son that he might not ever have to visit a battlefield where a material like Agent Orange is used.
The exposure to this toxic agent for the Vietnam soldier came in many forms — from eating or drinking contaminated items to other direct or indirect exposures.
I can remember in 1967 and ’68, filling sandbag after sandbag while assigned to Long Binh. I never thought about the jungles that must have stood at this very site before my arrival, and now a sandy cleared plot of land laid barren for the First Aviation Brigade’s home.
There are many diseases now identified with Agent Orange exposure, including cancers of the lung, skin, lymph glands and prostate. Ischemic heart disease has even been added to this list.
It you are a Vietnam-era veteran with some medical issues possibly linked to Agent Orange, you should contact a local Veterans Affairs officer to review your rights. Veterans Affairs offices in Hagerstown and Frederick can assist you.
Jack Padgett was a proud Marine. Like many veterans, he was deserving of more care than he likely received after his discharge.
R.I.P., Jack. I salute you.
Your country should, too.
Lloyd “Pete” Waters is a Sharpsburg resident who writes columns for The Herald-Mail.
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