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Veterans Day – Through the Lens of Vietnam and Camp Lejeune

By November 9, 2022February 15th, 2024Veteran Issues

When I was asked for my thoughts about this Veterans Day, I had to pause and decide if that was something I wanted to express. I’m a private person and having served in the 1970s, which was not a particularly good time to have served, I wasn’t sure I wanted to dredge up memories. Yet it was my time in Vietnam that shaped so much of who I am today. Plus, there is my recent experience helping Veterans.

So here goes.

As long as the military services have existed, they have coined phrases, many of which are now commonplace. A few examples that have made it into civilian life are “locked and loaded,” “fubar,” and “good to go.” But the one phrase that you don’t hear often is the one that is in the eyes of the person fighting next to you. He is scared, you are scared, and you both don’t have any idea how things are going to turn out.  There is an expression for that, which I will share at the end of this piece.

So you serve your time, counting the days as a “short timer” until you get out and restart your life again. This was the same for all branches of service, all wars, since we began as a nation. Recently, I learned it was not the same for all. I have heard rumors of problems at Camp Lejeune for what must be a decade now, and in the back of my mind I thought it just the Marines making noise. (They really are not a quiet group.) But then, I began reading about Ed Bell and his efforts to bring attention to the water which had been supplied to everyone who passed through the gates of Camp Lejeune. A few short weeks later, A Case for Justice was asked to approach the country and find the Marines, Sailors, and civilians whose lives had been impacted by this toxic water.

I have to say I was blown away by the severity and extent of damage that had been caused by the toxic water.  Service members from the Korean, Vietnam, and Gulf War conflicts were all being afflicted — in many instances much more seriously than if they had been shot.

In my work now I am heavily involved with many of these Marines, Sailors and civilians who attended Camp Lejeune. I talk to them daily and it has been an honor to help. But behind my involvement in helping these individuals try to receive compensation is a guardian angel who has been working tirelessly for ten years to bring this litigation to the forefront so that what I am doing now is even possible. This person worked at great personal expense because he believed it was the right thing to do.

That angel is Ed Bell.

I had the pleasure of meeting Ed about a month ago; he was being recognized for his non-wavering steadfastness in his efforts to bring about change so that it might be possible to obtain the financial compensation these individuals and families deserve. When talking, we compared notes and spoke of the Vietnam era. We talked about how many lives were negatively changed forever. Children died, spouses succumbed to cancer, Parkinson’s, ALS and a host of other terrible afflictions. The once “Proud Marines” and Sailors became shells of their former selves. At the end of the conversation, we agreed to get together and talk more.

As we parted I saw that look in Ed Bell’s eyes as we spoke, and it is the same expression that I saw in Vietnam and that I hear in my calls with family members of Camp Lejeune Veterans today.

It’s the acknowledgement that we are in this fight together, and that on this Veteran’s Day, someone has “got your back.”

That’s what we are working to do at A Case for Justice. Not just on Veterans Day but every day.

Roger Charles Bachman
Navy Combat Vietnam Veteran
A Case for Justice Military Advisor