THE mysterious deaths of three kids at Camp Lejeune last month was not the first time tragedy has rocked the military base.
Between 1953 and 1987, hundreds of infants died and were buried near the North Carolina base in a cemetery that has been named Baby Heaven.
During that time, people living or working at the base were potentially exposed to water containing toxins.
Toxins included trichloroethylene, benzene, and perchloroethylene and the concentration of the water was between 240-3400 times higher than the level allowed by safety standards at the time.
Decades later, scientists linked possible exposure to toxic water to diseases such as kidney cancer, leukemia, and liver cancer.
Ex-Marine Martin Keimig, who was stationed at Camp Lejeune on two occasions in 1972 and 1974, told The Sun: “In 1972, bottled water was unheard of. Nobody gave the [quality of the] water a second thought.”
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Officials at the Centre for Diseases Control and Prevention have collated data since 2000 and found at least 103 cases of childhood cancers and birth defects potentially linked to the toxic water in the 1960s and 1970s.
Scientists analyzed more than 12,000 health surveys of kids born to parents between 1968 and 1985.
In 2012, former President Barack Obama signed the “Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act” into law.
The legislation offers care to servicemembers and relatives stationed at Camp Lejeune who were potentially exposed to the toxins.
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The Obama Administration agreed to provide benefits totaling more than $2billion to veterans exposed to contaminated water.
To be eligible, veterans must’ve been stationed at the base for at least 30 days cumulative between August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987, according to the US Department of Veterans Affairs.
And, they must've been diagnosed with one or more conditions including adult leukemia, aplastic anemia and other myelodysplastic syndromes, bladder cancer, kidney cancer, liver cancer, multiple myeloma, Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, and Parkinson's Disease.
In an opinion piece for the Charlotte Observer, Audrey Williams Pride recalled that she and her husband moved to Camp Lejeune in 1984.
She was pregnant with her first child William James Morris III.
She was looking forward to giving birth but noticed spotting – just days before she was due to give birth.
Audrey was told to go to the hospital and tragically doctors couldn’t detect a heartbeat and she was instructed to give birth.
Audrey’s son didn’t survive and an autopsy couldn’t establish a cause of death.
She wrote: “I sunk into a deep depression, blaming myself for my son’s death. I carried that guilt and harrowing depression with me for years.”
But, she heard Obama mention Lejeune and started to make the connection.
She said: “Only then did I piece together the facts and come to the conclusion that my son’s death was related directly to the contaminated water I drank and cooked with before and throughout my pregnancy.”
Retired Marine Corps drill instructor Jerry Ensminger’s daughter Janey was diagnosed with leukemia in 1982.
She tragically died three years later at the age of nine.
He blamed the toxic water at Camp Lejeune for her death.
Ensminger told CBS News in January: “Nothing compares to watching one of your kids suffer and go through hell.
"And I blame the Marine Corps and the Department of the Navy."
Sally McLaughlin, then 18, moved to Camp Lejeune with her husband Tom, 21, in August 1962.
The young couple had their first child Carrie and years later when Tom was re-enlisted and was assigned to a base in Hawaii, Sally fell pregnant again.
She went into labor on February 5 1966 and she said that doctors had a “grim” expression on their faces, Mike Magner's book A Trust Betrayed: The Untold Story of Camp Lejeune and the Poisoning of Generations of Marines and Their Families revealed.
She recalled: “I kept saying ‘We are having a baby. Why the grim faces?’ Nobody was rushing, it was all a matter of fact.”
“I remember the doctor telling me the baby was dead.”
Their child, who they had named Michelle, suffered from anencephaly – meaning most of the brain was missing.
JOHN SAMUEL HOLLIDAY JR
Louella Holliday’s son John Samuel Holliday Jr died on November 10, 1973 – around 15 hours after being born.
His death came just months after she had delivered a child at the base in the January of that year.
She had moved into housing at Camp Lejeune when her husband John, a Navy corpsman, was assigned to the base hospital.
Recalling her ordeal 40 years later, she revealed that her kids also suffered health problems at Lejeune, according to Magner.
She said: “Like my daughter Angela when she wasn’t even one yet had such severe nosebleeds that blood came out of her eyes.”
And, Louella said her son William’s face “swelled up horribly.”
Louella said that Angela’s health started to improve after the family left the military base in 1976.
RUSSELL ALEXANDER THORPE
Mary Freshwater was the mom of two healthy kids when she and her husband moved to Lejeune.
But, her third child Russell Alexander Thorpe only lived one month after being born on November 30.
She said: “It was really a shocker when he was born that way and then when he died, he died in my arms. He took his last breath. That was just a little after midnight on the last day of the year in 1977.”
Keimig, who was diagnosed with stage three kidney cancer in 2013, said part of the blame lies with the government.
He said: “You have to blame who was in charge at the time. Part of the blame belongs to the Marine Corps and they have owned up to some of it.
"Whoever was in charge of that branch of government at the time is ultimately responsible.”
And, he said officials need to be more transparent about the contamination.
He called on military bosses to "serve" the families and dependents of those who were also stationed at the base.
KIDS FOUND DEAD
Three kids were found dead at Camp Lejeune on April 16.
According to documents obtained by WITN, two of the kids died at their parents' home in the Berkeley Manor housing area of the base.
The documents have listed the cause of death for the two sisters – aged four and six – as “pending”.
The father-of-two of the three children is reportedly a staff sergeant with the 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines.
No information has been released about the death of the third child.
A Naval Criminal Investigative Service spokesman confirmed no one has yet been charged in connection with the deaths on the base.
The spokesman said: "Out of respect for the investigative process, NCIS does not comment on or confirm details relating to ongoing investigations."
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GOP lawmaker Greg Murphy, who represents North Carolina's 3rd congressional district, has called for transparency amid the investigation into the deaths.
The Sun has approached Camp Lejeune for comment.
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