Sunday May 19, 2013
Marine in Hospice Helps Other VeteransRobert O'Dowd Salem-News.com
Marine dying of pulmonary lung fibrosis reached out to help other veterans.
(HOLUALOA, HI) - There are no causality records of the dead and injured at Camp Lejeune. The Navy and Marine Corps strongly disagree that there’s any scientific evidence to support that the organic solvents and benzene in Lejeune’s wells caused injuries and deaths.
With 130 military installations on the EPA Superfund list, many of them contaminated with Trichloroethylene (TCE), it’s easy to see why the Department of Defense would hesitate in admitting that exposure to TCE caused injuries and deaths. Veterans can’t sue the government for injuries on active duty, but their dependents can file tort claims.
One estimate is that as many as 500,000 people were exposed to the Camp Lejeune’ contaminated wells over a 30 year period (1957-1987).
Like the 58,000 veterans on the Vietnam War Memorial, the Lejeune dead are often only known to family members and those who served with them.
One of those Camp Lejeune dead is Major Herbert “Buzz” Baer who served in Vietnam and died on January 25, 2012 of pulmonary lung fibrosis, a disease the VA agreed was caused by the contaminated well water at Lejeune. Before his death, the VA awarded Major Baer a 100% disability for this deadly disease.
Like the many of the names on the Vietnam War Memorial, the Lejeune dead are often only known to family members and those who served with them. If there is ever a memorial erected to the Camp Lejeune dead, Major Herbert “Buzz” Baer, USMC, should be near the top. Born April 7, 1937 in Macon, Georgia, Buzz was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Marines after graduating from Baylor University with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and a Master of Science in Physical Education.
Buzz was stationed at Camp Lejeune from 1968 to 1972. During this period, he was attached as a Communication Officer with Headquarters Company, 6th Marines. At the time, no one knew the wells on the base were contaminated with organic solvents (1957-1987). It wasn’t until the early 1980s that the Marine Corps started to close down contaminated wells at Lejeune. For many who were exposed to the contaminated water, it was too late.
Buzz experienced the tragic effects of exposure to TCE, other organic solvents and benzene to his family. After leaving Lejeune, Lucea (Kauss) Baer, his first wife, died of breast cancer in the 1970s.
I never met Buzz in person or spoke to him on the telephone; I only knew him through his emails. Funny thing is that we both served in the Corps at the same time. After Camp Lejeune, Buzz was stationed at MCAS Cherry Point, NC, while my first permanent duty station was MCAS El Toro on the West coast. Our paths never crossed in the Corps, but Major Baer left a lasting impression on me and Tim King, editor of Salem-News.com.
What impressed us both was his energy and devotion to researching the contaminants at both Camp Lejeune and MCAS El Toro, CA. Buzz never served at El Toro but he offered to help us ‘peel the onion’ on El Toro’s contamination history, especially if it would served to help other Marine veterans. This was just part of his effort to help other Marine veterans who were sick from toxic exposures and needed help to get through the VA disability and compensation process.
There is a great deal of documentation on the contamination of Camp Lejeune’s wells but in comparison, significant and unexplained gaps in government records at El Toro. Both are EPA Superfund sites. Camp Lejeune is still an active Marine base while El Toro closed in July 1999 with most of the base sold at a public auction to a real estate joint venture in 2005. The Trichloroethylene (TCE) plume at El Toro is huge, spreading miles off the base into the Orange County aquifer. There is no comparable risk of contamination to the off base aquifer at Camp Lejeune. At El Toro, TCE was used as a degreaser for aircraft parts and that may explain the huge quantity of TCE found in the soil, groundwater and aquifer at El Toro. At one point, a kind of dry cleaning operation for aircraft parts was operated in Hangar 296 at El Toro. Parts were dropped into a basket and lifted by crane into a heated vat of TCE. There were no environmental constraints on the use of TCE for decades. Over time, a huge plume of TCE spread into Orange County.
Tim King and I wrote about the contamination at El Toro and Lejeune in BETRAYAL: Toxic Exposure of U.S. Marines, Murder and Government Cover-up. Buzz didn’t live long enough to read the book.
Salem-News.com (Salem, OR) receives many emails from veterans of Lejeune and El Toro. After awhile, you can pick-up indications of serious health problems from the senders, even if not spelled out in the emails. Buzz never once mentioned his precariously medical condition. When someone is critical ill, the last thing on their mind is to do a spelling check on their PC or review the email for obvious errors before sending it. Neither Tim nor I knew that Buzz was critically ill with pulmonary lung fibrosis. The prognosis of this disease is dismal. Pulmonary fibrosis means scarring throughout the lungs. The majority of patients with this disease are dead within 5 years. It was only after Natalie, his spouse, notified us of Buzz’s death that we learned that while on oxygen in a hospital bed, Buzz continued to reach out to other veterans via emails and telephone , offering to help all with their VA disability and compensation claims.
Natalie told us that, “It wasn’t Agent Orange the killed him [from his service in Vietnam]. He was declared 100% disabled by the VA from pulmonary lung fibrosis with severe restriction, requiring oxygen therapy as a result of contaminated water exposure [at Camp Lejeune]. I don’t know when he first discovered the contaminated water issue, sometime between November 2010 when he was first diagnosed with the fibrosis and February 23, 2011 when he filed for disability…the correspondence he had with you and Tim and the others kept him alive and vital throughout the seven months he was bed-bound. He’d be at his laptop for hours and I thank you all.”
Natalie shared with us what it was like to live with Buzz in the short time he had to live:
_________________________________Bob O’Dowd is a former U.S. Marine with thirty years of experience on the east coast as an auditor, accountant, and financial manager with the Federal government. Half of that time was spent with the Defense Logistics Agency in Philadelphia. Originally from Pennsylvania, he enlisted in the Marine Corps at age 19, served in the 1st, 3rd, and 4th Marine Aircraft Wings in 52 months of active duty in the 1960s. A graduate of Temple University, Bob has been married to Grace for 31 years. He is the father of two adult children and the grandfather of two boys. Bob has a blog site on former MCAS El Toro at mwsg37.com. This subject is where Bob intersected with Salem-News.com. Bob served in the exact same Marine Aviation Squadron that Salem-News founder Tim King served in, twenty years earlier. With their combined on-site knowledge and research ability, Bob and Tim and a handful of other ex-Marines, have put the contamination of MCAS El Toro on the map. The base is highly contaminated with TCE, trichloroethelyne
You can email Bob O’Dowd, Salem-News.com Environmental and Military Reporter, at this address: firstname.lastname@example.org
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