Former Marine Finds What Killed His Daughter, Helps Others Live

NOTE: This is a guest post by Margie Kelly, Communications Manager at Healthy Child Healthy World. This post was originally published on the Healthy Child Healthy World blog.

Jerry Ensminger is not your typical activist. “Typical” is probably the last word you’d use to describe him. Jerry is a former Marine drill sergeant at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, who directed all his determination, guts and smarts to figuring out why his 9-year-old daughter Janey died from leukemia.

Since Jerry started his quest 15 years ago, he’s been the subject of Semper Fi: Always Faithful, a documentary film short-listed for an Oscar. He’s testified before Congress. And this August, Jerry stood next to President Obama as he signed into law the “Janey Ensminger Act,” which provides health benefits for veterans and their families who were sickened by contaminated water at Camp Lejeune.

Jerry was stationed at Camp Lejeune when his daughter Janey was diagnosed with cancer in 1982. She died three years later. It bothered Jerry that he didn’t understand why Janey got sick, why she had leukemia. But 12 years later, in 1997, Jerry got an answer when he saw a news report about the significant level of contamination in the drinking water at Camp Lejeune by toxic chemicals including trichloroethylene, vinyl chloride, perchloroethylene, and more, all of which are known or suspected carcinogens.

Jerry wrote in a blog on Semper Fi, “Of course, my first thoughts were of Janey, but later that evening I began to think of all the other people who had been potentially exposed at Camp Lejeune who were now literally spread out all over the world! How many of them were still seeking their own glimmer of hope for their own nagging question of what happened to me or what happened to my loved one(s)? I knew right then and there, the only way those people would ever have a chance of finding out was for me to push for answers and do everything I could to make sure they got notified!”

It’s estimated that one million people could have been contaminated over the course of 30 years from drinking, bathing in, and eating foods prepared with the polluted water at Camp Lejeune. People’s health suffered from the exposure. For example, while only one in 100,000 men is expected to have breast cancer, veterans have found more than 80 cases of breast cancer in men with connections to Camp Lejeune. In a federal survey of families who lived there from 1968 to 1985, 22 cases of childhood leukemia were reported, which could be as much as sixteen times higher than would otherwise be expected, according to Jerry.

There’s so much to Jerry’s story. He’s a grieving father. He’s a former Marine taking on his beloved Marine Corps, which resisted revealing all of what it knew about the water contamination. He’s a fighter. Alex Rindler at Environmental Working Group called Jerry “a modern day hero.” That title fits him, too.

Jerry’s story is about the overwhelming power of love to change the world. The list of people who turned their grief into action to help others is long and inspired. Included on the list is Nancy and Jim Chuda, who lost their 5-year-old daughter to cancer. The Chudas founded Healthy Child Healthy World so parents would understand the relationship between the environment and diseases like cancer. There’s also Heather Donatini, a 2012 Healthy Child Healthy World Mom On a Mission nominee, who lost her son to cancer, but started a foundation to help other families who had children with cancer.

Before she died, Janey told her family she wanted to live longer to help other people. When the Janey Ensminger bill became law, Jerry said, “I know she’s watching. And by God, she’s made more of a change in this world through her death than most people make in their entire lives.”

Thank you Jerry for turning your love for your daughter into a powerful force that makes the world a better place.

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Photo courtesy of Semper Fi: Always Faithful


Karen R.
Karen R5 years ago

thank you

Dorothy N.
Dorothy N5 years ago

We do, indeed, know that industrial pollutants, whether incidentally spread in cost-cutting measures or deliberately added to food, water, medications and other products, cause most of our modern and rapidly-increasing disease levels, although industry - and complicit government - has officially adopted the industrial victim blame strategy taught to physicians/scientists through the branch of the petrochemical/GM/nanotech intertwined industries known as the pharmaceutical industry, to escape adequate regulation and liability, continue poisoning us and the Earth with relative impunity, and to control our choices and, importantly, purchases.

And yet I still see people endlessly repeating the party line, attempting to blame victims for their illnesses and symptoms such as that of of rapidly increasing obesity among industrially/GM exposed populations and fight to limit their individual choices by law, rather than demanding accurate assessments of risk and safer products, procedures and materials...

Heather M
Heather Marvin5 years ago

Contaminants, pollutions in our World cause so much needless pain, suffering and death.

Debbie L.
Debbie Lim5 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

Penny Bacon
.5 years ago

Thank you for the article.

Marianne B.
Marianne B5 years ago

A father's love and looking for answers took him to this level. Kudos to Jerry and his courage to stand up and enact a law. My sympathy to all those who died needlessly.

Paula G.
Paula G5 years ago

Sad. However, change can be started by one person. It will not bring back his child but every time something like this makes its way into open air it forces the government to take more responsibility. Aren't they still arguing over agent orange?

Dieter Riedel
Dieter R5 years ago

We need more of such people who set things straight. I am not surprised since my research clearly indicates that most cancers are a result of environmental toxins, that include fluoride in water, GMO's, medication, vaccination, industrial pollution, etc.

Winn Adams
Winn A5 years ago

What a hero!

Marilyn L.
Marilyn L5 years ago

Semper Fi Jerry. Thank you.