He was only 19 when he arrived to train at the renowned military base, Camp Lejeune. He visualised stories of his elders faithfully fighting as a Marine as his youth diminished. His pure mind didn’t know what Lejeune would bring, including the unknown threat of the drinking and bathing water contaminated with benzene. Daily rituals risked cancers that could be detrimental to his health.
He was only 22 when he left North Carolina. He returned home to his mother and sisters -- streaks of tears and puffy eyes -- with stories eager to escape his lips. Cancer risks weren’t settled in his mind; physical impurities showed no effect on the last bits of innocence clutching to him. Long-awaited hugs were exchanged as hearts steadily pounded together. He was lucky to still have a heartbeat and I am lucky he is my father.
He was only 34 when he held his newborn daughter on his hip, as he elongated time before he departed the security of his home to honor his Lejeune brothers. He drove before he stopped at rows upon rows of identical inscriptions of names on identical grey stones. Families clothed in black with red roses in their hands gazed at the inscription that means the most to them. His pure daughter hadn’t been exposed to the horror of war; he wished he could be pure again as well. There was only silence and tears as we possess the same reason to be here, as he became grateful that his name wasn’t lost within the headstones.
He is now 50, aware of the contamination in Camp Lejeune, reflecting every Memorial Day cancer-free. Gratefulness flows through his veins like blood. He isn’t honored like his brothers and won’t put his daughter through honoring him, either. The taintedness of 19, the relief of 22, the heart wrench of 34, and the thankfulness at 50 to wake up every morning are visualised in his head, and I share gratitude with him.
It is late May, he goes to see his brothers again.