by Mike Magner
(Da Capo Press/A Merloyd Lawrence Book, $27.50)
Reviewed by Larry Cox
“A Trust Betrayed” is the shocking, true story of an environmental disaster at Camp Lejeune that poisoned generations of U.S. Marines and triggered one of the largest hazardous waste exposures in history.
Author Mike Magner was investigating contaminated military bases when he learned about Tom Townsend, a former Marine officer who was stationed at Camp Lejeune in the late 1960s. Townsend and his wife lost an infant son to birth defects and other health problems, and only years later discovered the death likely was caused by contaminated drinking water on the South Carolina base. Magner began uncovering similar situations involving Marines and their families, many suffering from serious illnesses such as lymphoma and birth defects.
According to Magner, it was the statistics that told the shocking story. For example, a horrifying number of Camp Lejeune men developed breast cancer while living at the base. Worse yet, even after the health dangers became evident, the military brass reacted slowly and even shirked responsibility for their own negligence. There were even cases of so-called scientific studies manipulated by people with power, money and secrets to hide.
“A Trust Betrayed” shifts between the slow-moving cogs of military bureaucracy and the harrowing reports of the afflicted — Marines who wondered how the Corps to which they had sworn fidelity could have betrayed that trust to such a level. The story moves from the initial reports of solvents found in the groundwater to the section of the Jacksonville City Cemetery known as “Baby Heaven,” so named because of the alarming number of miscarriages interred there.
This extremely disturbing book demands the military hold itself accountable for the health and safety of its bases and tenants so that health disasters like the one at Camp Lejeune never happen again.