The Ridenhour Prizes Committee was delighted to learn that President Obama today signed into law a bill providing healthcare to all those who suffered illnesses due to water contamination at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. Master Sgt. Jerry Ensminger — whose quest to understand the reasons for his nine-year-old daughter's death led to his expose of the cover-up, and who was the subject of Semper Fi: Always Faithful, winner of the 2012 Ridenhour Documentary Film Prize — was present in the Oval Office to witness the signing that his campaign inspired.
A career soldier, Master Sgt. Ensminger's 25-year devotion to the Marine Corps was disrupted when his nine-year daughter, Janey, died of a rare form of leukemia. Determined to understand the reasons behind his daughter's death, Ensminger came to realize that the water at Camp Lejeune — where he had lived with his family and pregnant wife — was contaminated by high levels of toxins and carcinogenic chemicals. The Marine Corps had been made aware of the contamination as early as 1980, but did nothing to officially notify the residents of the base until 2008, when Ensminger's campaign brought national attention to the issue. It is believed that as many as one million Marines and their families were exposed to the toxic water.
Master Sgt. Ensminger led a coalition of former base residents, many of whom were sick with rare forms of cancer, to first make the Marine Corps acknowledge the fact of the contamination, and then to notify all the former residents of Camp Lejeune. The passing of legislation to provide healthcare to all those who lived or worked at Camp Lejeune from 1957 to 1987 represents the next stage in his quest for justice.
You can watch Master Sgt. Jerry Ensminger's remarks at the Ridenhour Prizes ceremony.
Our strategic partner in the Ridenhour Prizes, The Project on Government Oversight (POGO), also played a key role in bringing national attention to the cover-up at Camp Legeune, and in pushing for the legislation to be passed. Read their coverage of the issue.