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3/3/2006 - Letter from Anne Townsend

The following letter from Anne Townsend was presented to us by her husband Thomas A. Townsend USMC (retired Major). Anne Townsend passed away Feb. 22, 2006 but her spirit lives on. Semper Fidelis--Long recognized as the mantra of the elite corps--the United States Marine Corps. As a bride in 1954, my Marine husband indoctrinated me in the intricacies of service protocol; receiving lines, calling cards, nodding to the salute of a young Marine acknowledging the officer's tag on our Ford station wagon. Gradually I learned the social protocol of rank, and adapted to wearing gloves while balancing a drink, nibbling an hor d' oeuvre and clutching an evening bag--while being mindful of the cocktail hat rule (is the party before 6PM or after?). During the early years there was one underlying message--do what's expected and the Corps will take care of you. There was solace in this dictum because the husbands--our reason for being where we were--were most frequently gone. Never fear, even if your partner was "in the field" for several weeks, or TDY for several months, you were safe--looked after by the Corps. The husbands and fathers--the Marines--relied on this tacit understanding, knowing that their loved-ones were, if need arose, looked after by a cadre of support personnel. This knowledge allowed them to concentrate totally on the mission at hand. One of the hallmarks of service life was the frequent moves--one year we moved four times--across the country and back. All service wives are more adept at cleaning for a move than for traditional Spring house cleaning. Hosehold goods must expand or contract, depending upon the size of available housing. The optimum re-assignment involved immediate base housing--it happened in 1965 when we moved into a "Cracker-box" at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. That assignment was to change our lives. At the height of the Viet-Nam conflict Marines were rapidly being deployed to meet the requirement in Southeast Asia, consequently base hou sing at Camp Lejeuene was becoming available at an unprecedented rate. When I pinned the gold leaves on my husband's shoulder (stabbing my thumb in the process) we became eligible for larger field-grade quarters (to this day the biggest house we have ever occupied). Our eleven year-old son and four year-old daughter were ecstatic' the range of playmates and proximity to the Club swimming pool presented a host of new social possibilities. Then I became pregnant--an unexpected but not unwelcome condition. It was not until after the birth of our son in March, 1967, that joy was overcome by tragedy. As all service wives know, things fall apart as soon as the husbands depart for duty elsewhere. Mine left for the remote island of Vieques on the day before I learned that six week-old Christopher had a severe heart defect. What followed was a nightmare of hospital stays, evaluations, ham radio call to my husband (on Tuesday and Thursday only, if you please) and an attempt to keep the family on even keel. During the next two months I sometimes did not fare well in the latter department. The problem was resolved in late June while my husband (allowed to return home for a few days) and I were at Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland, with our three and a half month-old son. His diseased young heart ceased to function and his remains were committed to Arlington National Cemetary. I spent the next thirty-three years wondering what I had done to cause this genetic misfortune. Not until early Spring, year 2000, did I learn of the role of the Marine Corps in this long-ago event. The small notice in a retiree bulletin prompted by husband to call my attention to the information--those living aboard the Camp Lejeune base during the years 1968 to 1985 were subjected to Volitile Organic Chemicals in the drinking water. My first reaction was, "What does this have to do with us?" In the months to follow I learned the answer--everything!!! During this past year my husband and I have dealt with a Marine Corps completely foreign to that which we have known. Cover-up, denial and stone-walling best describe this new Semper Fi Corps. Thousands of military families and troops have been affected by this chemical contamination and the Corps is just now--in the year 2001--attempting to reach these people. A breach of faith--Yes!! Semper Fidelis--No!! For those thousands of affected people--you are not alone--All you did was drink the water. Marines have never been known to shrink from battle--this conflict is no exception. Aging Viet-Nam veterans are utilizing the very skills learned from the Marine Corps training. Their weapons more mighty than the sword--determination and the pen. As word of the contamination at Camp Lejeune seeps to the remote areas of the country, parents who are coping with affected children or those who have buried their offspring are coming forth to fight--to be heard and recognized by those who refuse to accept responsibility. There is strength in numbers--Marines are known for their fighting spirit and dedication to a cause. The battle now joined is the ultimate proof of the Semper Fi spirit of few good men.


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