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Nov-25-2013 14:05printcomments

The Toxic Apocalypse, We are all in this Together!

If any family understands toxic exposure, it is my family. We have endured it through multiple generations of military service.

Marine Raiders in the Pacific islands during WWII
Photos provided by Dave Biller

(WAYNESBURG, Pa.) - When I was a child, my father had a photo album from WWII that was full of pictures of nothing but a city in rubble. We were sworn to secrecy and were not permitted to discuss these photos with anyone. I always remembered this one photo of an arch doorway of a church still standing with the rest of the building just gone.

Later in life I learned that there was the impression of little girl’s charred remains on that doorway. I never noticed this detail until it was explained to me by my father. The story of his personal experience of this little girl at the church, I will never forget. As it turned out these were his one of kind personal photos of the devastation after the atomic bomb blast in Nagasaki.

My father was one of forty Marines sent into Nagasaki on a recon mission just prior to the bomb drop. The first Marine died of cancer within a year. He told me guys began dying from cancer at various times after returning home.

The first one was within a year and a half. He always thought he was one of the lucky ones. For some reason, he didn’t get cancer. However, all of his kids were born with some sort of birth defect. As for myself; I was born with scoliosis (Curvature of the spine). Most of my brothers and sisters were born with something and have had medical issues throughout their life.

My oldest brother served multiple tours in Vietnam as a Marine. He was wounded in combat, but also had multiple medical problems related to Agent Orange and passed away almost four years ago from pancreatic cancer. His children didn’t escape the wrath either. His oldest son passed away earlier this year from congestive heart failure. He had suffered from medical complications since birth.

I was stationed at Andersen AFB Guam from 1986 to 1988. I had medical issues ever since I was there. In recent years, I learned of multiple toxic exposures. I thought that Agent Orange would be one of those exposures. Others include TCE, PCB’s, numerous heavy metals and as my research continues, I suspect possible chemical weapons may have been stored in bunkers I worked in. I know these bunkers have been removed, but the contaminants were never revealed. I remember the bunkers smelled bad when we were in them.

If any family understands toxic exposure, it is my family. We have endured it through multiple generations of military service. The strange thing is; since WWII, we have not lost a family member to a bullet. Nevertheless, we have certainly suffered casualties. I’m not sure what’s worse.

Exposure death is not quick. It lingers on and effects future generations. My son was born premature. I don’t know what other health problems he will have and what his kids will have. The million dollar question is, where does it stop?

There is another angle to this story though. We are looking at direct exposures from multiple wars; multiple generations. I have two nephews serving now in Afghanistan. Does this mean they will have burn pit exposure or some other exposure? What is the difference between all of these exposures?

The answer is: there is no difference. Veterans separate themselves by generations and wars, but they are really the same group exposed to toxic chemicals through air, water and soil.

The chemicals damage the body based on acute exposure and chronic exposure. Another variant is the persons overall condition both at the time and throughout life. Based on people I have talked to, it seems like they can handle the conditions until they hit mid life and things start getting worse. That was the case for me.

I’ve had issues since leaving the military. The VA wouldn’t help me. I was able to cope with most of them and got private care for what I couldn’t deal with. Now my age seems to be a factor. I need the VA to help me figure out what is happening. Now it is affecting my work. Now it is really starting to affect my quality of life. I am no longer able to brush it aside as I did when I was younger.

So we have gone multiple generations without the government stepping up. I think one of our biggest issues is that there has been no research programs established for any exposures. Sure there are some haphazard programs developed to determine of the issue should be recognized by the VA, but I’m talking about full blown research programs run by an independent entity like the University of Pittsburgh. They actually have resources available to establish research programs for the government.

They already conduct veteran studies in other areas. We are our own worst enemy. We need to quit separating ourselves into different exposure groups like wars, contaminated bases, generational gaps and types of exposure. We are all fighting the same fight and we are all in this together. We should be pushing one bill on Capitol Hill that covers everyone in one group. So what kind of bill should we look at? A bill that includes:

  • A full research program that studies all exposures; acute, chronic and generational effects.
  • No discrimination policy. Include veterans and their dependents in the program. Include descendents for toxins that have been proven to have birth defects. Include all veterans regardless of when they served and for how long.
  • No geographical preferences. Worldwide exposures included.
  • All toxic exposures included. If it’s classified as a hazardous material at any level, it’s included in the program.
  • No discrimination to method of exposure; via air, water, soil or other means.

These two photos were taken at the same lot at different times at the Anderson AFB tank farm. Agent Orange
was stored on these lots throughout the Vietnam War. Many drums we damaged causing AO to leak into the soil.
When working on project several years after the war and the drums were gone, we didn't know this happened.
Base housing and a field where kids played was closed to this area. According to an Air Force report in 2007; the
soil in that area of base housing was still identified as being contaminated.

It’s time for veterans, families and others exposed to fight together for programs to support exposure research programs and medical support through eh VA. There is strength in numbers and these things are all related.


Comments Leave a comment on this story.

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Jerry Huffman September 9, 2018 10:24 am (Pacific time)

I was stationed at Anderson AFB, Guam from 1966-1967 with 461st Combat Defense Squadron(CDS). Was Security Police on B-52's that were loaded with conventional weapons for bombing raids over North Vietnam. Diagnosed with high-risk prostate cancer in 01/2018. Ended up with a Prostatectomy in 08/2018.

Robert Fink April 17, 2017 4:23 pm (Pacific time)

I was there from 70-72. I saw the leaking drums of solvents, AO and lubricants. I was sprayed on the flight line. I sprayed herbicides for grounds maintenance around fire station and crawled thru fire training site at 19000 PPM. Lived on Marbo and was Station Captain there. Drank the solvent TCE bathed and ate food cooked in it! Deny Deny till we die!!!

Caroline Lucania-Smith April 18, 2016 1:50 pm (Pacific time)

Hi Dave Biller.I came across your Fathers war photo and was pleasantly surprised.My Grandfather Pvt.Roy William Smith of Concord NC is seated next to your Father on the right.He is not wearing a helmet and is wearing a ring on his finger.Our family has been searching for him.Can U help in amyway?. KIND Regards.Caroline.

Tim Wolf October 12, 2015 4:34 am (Pacific time)

I was at Andersen from 85 - 87 and beginning in early 86 I developed migraine headaches. I would wake up in the morning with a headache, work all day with a headache, and go to bed with a headache. I worked out in the bomb dump being in the 43rd Munitions Maintenance Squadron. The VA has me on high doses of valproic acid to keep migraines at bay. I have had hot flashes that was diagnosed as "neurodermatitis". I had those for 19 years before a psychiatrist at the VA hospital in Cincinnati Oh diagnosed me. Along with them came a dry cough. The best the Air Force could do for me at the time, for the migraines, was give me inderal. I am starting to think that agent orange has something to do with my medical issues. Thanks

Anson February 17, 2014 3:29 pm (Pacific time)

I stationed at Andersen from 86 - 89. I was in the 43rd CES HVAC shop. My roommate was in water and waste and I noticed that he would always drink bottled water. I asked him about it but he really didn't say much. Thanks for the info and keep us posted.

Thank you Anson, please feel encouraged to write about your experiences and send them to us,  We can use the information for our known purposes and to broaden our understanding, and if you agree we can possibly draft the material into an article, again thanks.

Tim King

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