BRIAN LAMB: Rachel Libert, why did you get involved in a documentary called ”Semper Fi”?
RACHEL LIBERT: Well, the start of this film began actually with our lead subject’s sister. I was reaching a completely different topic and met a woman who worked at a public health organization as a communications director, and that project didn’t move forward, but she before we sort of left that project, she let us know that her brother was involved in a fight exposing a water contamination at Marine Corps.
And my co-director, Tony, and I were a bit skeptical, but we agreed to meet her brother, which turned out to be Jerry Ensminger, and we were immediately we were immediately taken with the subject, and I would say for two reasons. Number one, we saw the evidence that Jerry had amassed, and we were shocked and saw that there really was something to the story.
And then the second thing was, we were taken with him. He’s just his we felt that he was very powerful and charismatic storyteller through which to tell a very important environmental story.
LAMB: Where were you located when you started this?
LIBERT: In New York.
LAMB: And what year did you start it?
LAMB: How long did it take you to do it?
LIBERT: A little over four years. And I don’t know that we knew that going into it. And I don’t I think that you start these projects, and you don’t necessarily know where they’re going, and there’s a certain leap of faith in documentary that you believe in the essence of something and you sort of have to just go with where life takes the story.
And, you know, we knew it could either take two years, it could take 10 years. We didn’t kind of have a sense of how long that journey would be.
LAMB: You’re allowing us to show a little bit of this documentary as we go, so let’s watch a quick beginning and then we’ll come back with Jerry.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: I was fixing a plate of food in the kitchen, getting ready for the evening news. The reporter said...
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: The contaminates found in the water at Lejeune have been linked in scientific literature to birth defects and childhood cancers.
ENSMINGER: My first thought was, was this what happened to Janey?
I dropped my plate right there. I mean, it was like God was saying to me, ”Here is a glimmer of hope that you will find your answer.”
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LAMB: Jerry Ensminger, what are you talking about there?
ENSMINGER: When any family ever has parents have a child, especially a child, that’s diagnosed with a long-term catastrophic illness, without exception, because I’ve talked to so many other families, when Janey was sick, the first thing after you have a chance to sit down after the shock of the diagnosis wears off is that nagging question: Why? Well, I was no exception.
And I looked into her mother’s family history, my family history, no other child had ever been diagnosed with cancer.
LAMB: And what year was it that she got the cancer? And when did she die?
ENSMINGER: She was diagnosed in 1983. She died in 1985. And that revelation on the news didn’t happen until 1997, three years after I had retired out of the Marine Corps. And all those years, I had had that nagging question. And when I heard that, I was walking into the living room with a plate of spaghetti, and the reporter on the TV said said what they said right there on that clip. And I dropped my plate of spaghetti right there on the living room floor.
LAMB: Go back to when she got the cancer. What kind was it?
ENSMINGER: Acute lymphocytic leukemia, ALL.
LAMB: Where did you live at the time?
ENSMINGER: Jacksonville, North Carolina. We were living off-base then. We had purchased a home in town.
LAMB: Camp Lejeune?
ENSMINGER: Jacksonville is the home of Camp Lejeune.
LAMB: You spent how many years in the Marine Corps?
ENSMINGER: Twenty four and a half.
LAMB: What was your rating, rank at the end of your tour?
ENSMINGER: Master sergeant.
LAMB: What was your specialty?
ENSMINGER: Motor transport maintenance. And then I was also a drill instructor.
LAMB: Where’d you meet your wife?
LAMB: And how many kids have you had?
ENSMINGER: Three, three girls, all girls.
LAMB: How old are they today?
ENSMINGER: Terry is 37. Jessica is 31.
LAMB: You have one other alive?
ENSMINGER: Janey’s dead.
LAMB: Wait, you have three girls or four?
ENSMINGER: I have four. I have another daughter, Veronica, and she’s 23.
LAMB: OK, that’s what I was getting at. What after you you met Jerry’s sister, and then you met Jerry. What were your hurdles to get this documentary finished?
LIBERT: You know, it’s interesting. I would say like most documentaries, financing and raising money is probably the largest hurdle, just sort of cobbling together the actual financing, especially when these things are unpredictable and they drag out for so long. So that’s sort of a given.
Beyond that, I would say specific to this film was probably where the story was going. You know, when we first started, we weren’t sure how much Jerry could achieve. We believed in him, and we believed in his personal story, this idea of someone who was so loyal to the Marine Corps and then became so disillusioned and had to fight against this organization, just the inherent that inherent story and his personal struggle was really the hook for us. But we always had the story of nagging fear about, you know, if we follow this for you know, so many cases of water contamination or environmental incidents and very unresolved, you know? And how much traction could one guy get, when they’re fighting such a huge opponent of the Department of Defense, right?
So I think there was a big fear with my co-director, Tony Hardmon, and I about, you know, do we have we know we have a great subject. Do we have a film? And I would say two years into the making of it, we started to see Jerry get some real traction. He started to make some great allies on Capitol Hill, things started to happen, and we had a sense that, oh, yeah, you are going to able to see some forward motion. This will be a story about one man persevering, one man actually accomplishing something and his determination, which we felt we could structure a film around.
LAMB: What were you specifically after you heard that report in ’97, what were you eventually specifically looking for? What was done to the water in Jacksonville or at Camp Lejeune that you feel led to the death of your daughter?
ENSMINGER: Initially, I started making contact with representatives at Camp Lejeune and the Navy Environmental Health Center, which is out of Norfolk. And then I started looking into other issues where contamination had taken place in other studies that had been done, and that led me to this guy, Kevin Costas, who did the final investigation for Woburn, Massachusetts, which was made famous by the movie ”A Civil Action.”
The representatives of the military that I contacted played this down extremely, told me, oh, ATSDR doesn’t know what they’re talking about, these were very minute, trace amounts of these chemicals. You know, you don’t have any fear that you shouldn’t have any fear or reason to believe that this is what caused your daughter’s illness.
And I said, well, if that’s the case, why is ATSDR talking about doing a childhood leukemia study? That’s what they called it initially.
And then, as time went on and as years went by, I said in the film that I had all the faith and confidence in the world that the Marine Corps that I had served for nearly a quarter of a century of my life would do what was right by its people.
As time went on, I started to realize that not only were they not doing what was right by their people, they were doing everything they could possibly to do what was wrong. They were obfuscating facts. They were omitting facts. They told many, many half-truths and total lies.
LAMB: Here’s some more from the documentary where you’re speaking.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ENSMINGER: Tom and I worked for six years without ever even knowing what the truth was, until the Marine Corps posted a bunch of documents by mistake. Tom called me and told me that they had posted this website on the Internet. I said, ”No kidding.”
TOM TOWNSEND: As soon as I found that, I said, oh, my god, this is the holy grail, kid.
ENSMINGER: I was on a dial-up computer, and I stayed up for weeks on end all night going through this website.
TOM TOWNSEND: I started reading these things, and all these questions came to mind.
ENSMINGER: They didn’t vet it very well, because let’s just put it this way. It was only up for like a month-and-a-half to two months and it was taken down. But luckily we captured the entire thing before they did.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LAMB: Tell us again, what was it that was on that website? And how did it get there?
ENSMINGER: The Marine Corps was from what I understand the National Science Foundation directed the Marine Corps to post these documents in a library on their website, because it had NSF at the end of the URL. And it was a typical what I call a typical military maneuver. When they did it, they didn’t vet it very well. They probably had two low-rank enlisted guys in there scanning all these documents into a computer, and they just posted the whole thing.
They had they had their internal e-mails. They had stuff on there that people’s addresses, names, phone numbers. I mean, it was a violation of the Privacy Act, number one. Number two, there was some really damning documents in there, damning for them.
And I was in Virginia when Tom called me and told me that they had posted this library of documents. And I said, wow, no kidding. That’s and I was getting ready to come home. I was up there helping a friend of mine clear some land. And when I got home, I started looking at this stuff, and it’s like Tom said in the film. Oh, my god. This is the holy grail.
LAMB: Where were you born?
ENSMINGER: I was born in Pennsylvania.
LAMB: What town?
ENSMINGER: I was born in Chambersburg, but then I grew up right outside of Hershey, Pennsylvania.
LAMB: And where do you live now?
ENSMINGER: North Carolina. I stayed in North Carolina after I retired.
LAMB: You live near Jacksonville?
ENSMINGER: I am 75 miles upgradient of Camp Lejeune.
LAMB: Go back to the Tom Townsend . Did you go out to where he’s located yourself?
LIBERT: I did, yes.
LAMB: How much of the interviews did you do?
LIBERT: All of it, yeah. All I was involved in all of the filming with him.
LAMB: So where is Tom Townsend ? And what did you find in him?
LIBERT: Well, he’s a very we found him very interesting. He lives in Moscow, Idaho, which is a small town, but it’s a college town. It’s very pretty. We went in the midst of winter. It was very, very cold, very snowy, and it felt very remote.
I found him very interesting, because he was an officer and, like Jerry, was a career Marine and was equally disillusioned. He had lost a son, and his wife had also passed away to liver disease that he believed was connected to the contamination.
And so he was fighting this fight alongside Jerry, and his skills were a bit of the digging and the fact-finding. And I was really intrigued by this man who, on the one hand, he’s a bit of a Luddite. He hates computers. He likes to fax things. He handwrites everything, but yet he was digging out all this information.
I mean, Jerry and he on this website and what Jerry didn’t mention is, they they were downloading these massive PDFs and hundreds of thousands of files on a dial-up connection. It took them weeks to get all of these documents off of this portal.
And Tom did a lot of the FOIA writing to get additional documents. So they would get these initial documents, and it would lead them to another document. And Tom handwrote over 1,200 FOIA documents, because he doesn’t like to type.
LAMB: What’s a FOIA document?
ENSMINGER: It’s a Freedom of Information Act request.
LAMB: And how many of those did you make?
ENSMINGER: Tom wrote over 1,000, wrote...
LAMB: Actual requests?
ENSMINGER: Yes, handwritten.
LAMB: And what kind of success did he have?
ENSMINGER: He had he had really good success, because Tom was also calling different officials in the Marine Corps, and and because he was a retired officer, he developed a relationship with one of the former chiefs of staff down there at the base. And this is really funny, because this man sent Tom a DVD, a CD, of all these documents. And we were out there at his house, and Tom goes, ”Oh, yeah, he sent me a bunch of stuff,” hard copy stuff, and he said, ”Oh, he sent me these damn things,” and they were in a pigeonhole in his desk. And I said, ”Oh, my god.” I said, ”Have you looked at these?” And he goes, ”No,” he said, ”I got I stuck them right up there in that pigeonhole. They’ve been up there ever since.”
I said, oh, lord. So I took the things and looked at them. That was back in 2007.
LAMB: And what were they?
ENSMINGER: They were there were documents in there that we had never seen.
LAMB: About what?
ENSMINGER: Regulations that the Navy had created for drinking water standards on on naval installations.
LAMB: And when had they created the regulations? Before your daughter died?
ENSMINGER: Oh, absolutely. These started back in 1963. And the Navy had very strict standards for drinking water on naval installations dating all the way back to 1963.
LAMB: By the way, if you live near Camp Lejeune today, do you have anything to worry about?
ENSMINGER: No, because Camp Lejeune for the most part is located between the off-base communities and the ocean. So contamination naturally moves toward the nearest large body of water, which would be the ocean.
LAMB: Do you have anything to worry about if you live in that area, like you did back then, back in the ’80s? In other words, have they cleaned this contamination up?
ENSMINGER: The contamination still exists under the ground. And they are they are supposed to be remediating it. But unfortunately, the technology does not exist at this time to clean up underground sources of contamination or pollution problems.
LAMB: And this is TCE and PCE?
ENSMINGER: And fuel.
ENSMINGER: Benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene.
LAMB: I won’t ask you right now to defend I mean, not to defend, but to describe all that. I want to go back to the video from the documentary, which is how long?
LIBERT: Seventy-six minutes.
LAMB: And was that a conscious decision on your part as a documentarian to do only that long a...
LIBERT: Yeah, it was. We wanted to try to keep the film a manageable length. There’s a lot of information, but we wanted to make to find this right balance between the personal story and all of the technical information. And we felt that 76 minutes was would be a good length for the film.
LAMB: Shoot it on film or tape?
LAMB: And how many hours of tape do you have?
LIBERT: Over 400 hours that were winnowed down to the 76 minutes.
LAMB: Here’s a little more from your documentary.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ENSMINGER: I am appearing here today as one spokesperson for the hundreds of thousands of Marines, sailors, their families, and loyal civilian employees who were unknowingly exposed to horrendous levels of toxins through their drinking water at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
MR. FERGUSON: Dr. Sinks , if you had been on these bases and known about the contamination, would you have felt comfortable drinking that water?
DR. SINKS: I think that I personally would have been using different water.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: I’m told that officials waited years before they identified the contaminated wells and then closed them down in 1985. Who was in charge then at Camp Lejeune?
MAJ. GEN. ROBERT DICKERSON: All of the officials sorry, sir all of the officials at Camp Lejeune would have been in charge, just like they are today.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: Your people were exposed to it, and you didn’t do anything.
MAJ. GEN. ROBERT DICKERSON: I wouldn’t say that the Marine Corps at Camp Lejeune didn’t do anything at that time. As soon as they found that they were contaminated, they shut them down.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: General Dickerson , why has DOD not notified those residents at Camp Lejeune that they may have been exposed to TCE or PCE? Don’t you think have a responsibility to let these people they may have been exposed?
MAJ. GEN. ROBERT DICKERSON: Yes, sir.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: OK. Then why don’t you do it?
KELLY DREYER: That would be a very difficult and laborious task. We could try. But I could never commit to finding 100 percent of people who may have been exposed. That would be very difficult.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: You can’t tell me the Marine Corps doesn’t know who was at Camp Lejeune from ’65 to 2007? I just can’t believe you can’t do that. That’s inconceivable to me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LAMB: Were you in the room?
LAMB: What was your reaction? And who were some of the the woman that shook her head once and also I believe is it the woman’s name, Danita ?
LAMB: Who is now deceased.
LAMB: Explain who they were and...
LIBERT: The the woman who shook her head is actually Jerry’s sister, Marie , who initially introduced us to the story. The woman who shook her head is a woman named Danita , who we also followed in the film. When we met Danita , she was actually healthy, but shortly thereafter, she was diagnosed with cancer that honestly had metastasized so much in her body that I don’t think they could even say what the organ of you know, what organ it started in. And we began to in addition to following Jerry and Tom and the others, we also followed Danita as she fought to stay alive, as well as fought to get this issue out.
She did not make it in the time that we were making the film. And neither my co-director or I had ever experienced that in a project we’d worked on, and it was really hard. But Danita felt very strongly that her story should be in the film, and she even though there were times where she was not feeling so great when we were trying to film her, because she had chemo treatment and whatnot, she really rallied through.
LAMB: What was the purpose of the hearing?
ENSMINGER: The purpose of that hearing was specifically about Camp Lejeune and about the contaminated water. The hearing was titled ”Poisoned Patriots.”
LAMB: So we’re starting that your daughter, Janey, died in 1980...
LAMB: ... and you’re is that the first time you’ve ever testified, in 2007?
ENSMINGER: No, sir. I testified the first time in April of 2004. The Washington Post had done an article in January of 2004 about Camp Lejeune and the contaminated water. And that was titled ”Tainted Water in the Land of Semper Fi.”
Congressman Dingell, John Dingell from Michigan, who was the ranking member at that time of the Energy and Commerce Committee, his staff saw that article in the newspaper, and they had a hearing coming up where DOD was attempting to get more immunities from environmental regulations. And Mr. Dingell was rather angry about that. And it looked like his counterpart, the chairman, was Joe Barton at that time, looked like that they were going to give DOD these immunities.
So Mr. Dingell forced it into a hearing, and they asked me to come testify about Camp Lejeune and what happened at Camp Lejeune. And that was the first time that I’d testified, 2004. Mr. Stupak, who’s no longer in Congress, was on that committee and saw heard my testimony and he said, if they ever won control of Congress back and he became a chairman of a subcommittee in the Energy and Commerce Committee, he vowed that he would hold a hearing about Camp Lejeune. And that’s what happened.
LAMB: What did you offer the Marine Corps as an opportunity? I want to ask more about the general and his civilian colleague there. But what did you offer the Marine Corps when you made this documentary?
LIBERT: We requested an interview multiple times, and we they declined. What they did we also asked to film on base, to actually film footage of the base, and they did allow that. They spent a day with us. They had two people accompany us all over the base so that we were able to get footage of the base so that we could bring that alive. So but it was important to us that their perspective be represented in some way.
And so we’re fortunate that they were brought before Congress, they were brought in front of other news outlets, so we were able to pull statements that they made in those public forums and incorporate those in the film, since we were not able to get a one-on-one.
LAMB: You say in the documentary that you told the commandant of the Marine Corps you just make that statement something about all this. What was that? Where was that? And were you still in the service?
ENSMINGER: No. No. And and when I say I told the commandant of the Marine Corps, I’ve had to tell him third person or third party, through that third party, had to relay that message to him. They’ve never provided me an opportunity to sit down and talk to the leadership.
LAMB: One of the things I kept thinking as I was watching it, why would the people who live who lived on Camp Lejeune, who were subject to the same kind of water that your family was exposed to, why would they want to automatically say that there’s no toxins in the in this water? And they’re subject to it’s like an airplane pilot that wants to make sure his plane’s safe before he takes off.
ENSMINGER: Yeah, well, most of the people that are involved in this today weren’t there back then. Some are. Some were. And the ones that were there back at the time the contamination was taking place are now very high-ranked. So they’re protecting the institution. And if...
LAMB: What does that mean? How do you protect an institution if you’re not protecting your people?
ENSMINGER: Well, you know, one thing that’s happened recently that got nationwide coverage was what happened at Penn State University with the child sex abuse. Those officials and leaders at Penn State chose to protect the institution, the university, the football program over the protection of the kids that this man was abusing.
The same thing’s going on with the Marine Corps. They’re protecting the institution over the health and safety of the people who serve them.
LAMB: We’re going to show a clip of a man named Mike Partain and his wife and children. Who are they? And why did you include them in this?
LIBERT: Mike Partain is a man who lives in Tallahassee, Florida, who found out about the situation at Camp Lejeune actually when he saw Jerry testifying in 2007. He saw CNN coverage of it. Mike was born at Camp Lejeune, and when he was 40 years old, he came down with a rare type of male breast cancer, and rare because he I say rare because he didn’t have the genetic marker for it, which is usually typical. Male breast cancer is rare in general, and it’s even more rare when you don’t have these genetic defects that usually are a precursor for it.
He was struggling with his illness when he heard about the water contamination through Jerry’s testimony and immediately called Jerry, wanted more information, and as soon as he was healthy enough, became very involved in the fight. And that was probably about six months to a year into our filming, and so we were really able to see somebody get immersed into this situation.
When we met Jerry, he was already full into it. So it was nice it was interesting to sort of see Mike kind of begin that process that we weren’t able to see with Jerry.
LAMB: Let’s watch a little bit, and then I’ll ask you some more.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: One year ago today, a 39-year-old Tallahassee resident was diagnosed with male breast cancer. Now Mike Partain is on the hunt for the truth, and he is joined...
MRS. PARTAIN: There’s a part of me that says, you know, shh, be quiet, sit down. You know? Just tell what you know, the people you need to tell locally, and let’s just you know, let’s not make a big scene. But...
MIKE PARTAIN: I’m totally opposite of that. It’s one of the things that I’ve understood I mean, our biggest weakness is the fact that we’re not concentrated at Camp Lejeune. This isn’t like Love Canal, where you can go drive down the street and see little Suzy’s house there and that’s where she died and little Johnny over there. He got cancer. And you can’t do that at Camp Lejeune. The people that were there, they’re only there for a couple years and they’re gone.
But as word of this gets out, that weakness becomes our strength, because we’re in every town across America. We’re in every town, every city, and every state. And every one of us has a congressman and a senator.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LAMB: Did Mike Partain ever serve?
ENSMINGER: He was in the Navy for a short period of time, and he got discharged because he had a medical problem. He had severe rashes that they just couldn’t clear up.
LAMB: But he was born at Camp Lejeune why? I mean, where was...
ENSMINGER: His father was a Naval Academy graduate, and his dad chose the marine option. His dad was a Marine Corps officer.
LAMB: Another figure and we don’t have it in a clip that comes out of this, I believe is that 70 men had breast cancer. Related to what, Camp Lejeune?
ENSMINGER: Yes, sir.
LAMB: Seventy different men.
ENSMINGER: The only thing that those it’s now 78, that Mike has found. The only thing that all 78 of them had in common was Camp Lejeune.
LAMB: What was the Marine Corps’s reaction to that?
ENSMINGER: Denial. It’s everything I mean, anybody and everybody that asked the Marine Corps any questions about this is, they did they’re denying it. Denial, denial, denial.
LAMB: Have they ever accepted any blame for any of this?
LIBERT: As far as I know, no, they haven’t. In the time that we have been filming, they have changed their message slightly, I would say. Wouldn’t you say, Jerry, that they’ve I wouldn’t say they’re admitting to it...
ENSMINGER: It’s morphed.
LIBERT: ... but they’ve softened it, maybe. But certainly, no. And the other thing I want to mention about Mike is what I found amazing is so here’s this man. He got diagnosed with this rare breast cancer, and he immediately started thinking, ”There must be more out there.”
And so he started contacting and finding all I mean, this 78 figure that Jerry is speaking of, a lot of those men wouldn’t even know about it had Mike not begun this sort of process of reaching out and trying to find other people.
LAMB: How did he find them?
LIBERT: I think he posted on breast cancer websites. He tried to do a lot of local media and national media, and the word got out. He got involved in a calendar shoot that we feature in the film, where they did a photo shoot of of the time that were were many there were fewer men that they knew about.
LIBERT: Sixty-five. And that calendar raised that helped to raise more awareness and find more guys, and he has been very relentless with trying to get the word out.
LAMB: And a lot of these men had their pictures taken without their T-shirts on, so you could see the breast cancer operation.
LAMB: Seventy-eight, and the only thing that those 78 have in common is they all either lived at Camp Lejeune...
ENSMINGER: Were born there.
LAMB: ... were born there.
ENSMINGER: The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry has also taken this issue up, and they have gone to the V.A. And the V.A. has searched their cancer registry, and they found 185 Marines on their registry with male breast cancer.
Now, they’re going through manually right now checking to see how many of those were at Camp Lejeune when they served in the Marine Corps, but I can guarantee you that better than 50 percent of those 185 were at Camp Lejeune. And out of the 78 that Mike has found, only seven of them are on the V.A.’s roles.
LAMB: From the documentary, it’s when you talked about Janey’s death. She was nine when she died, correct?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ENSMINGER: The day she died, she was really bad. She said, ”Oh, Daddy,” she said, ”I really hurt.” And I said, ”I know, honey,” I said, ”But you won’t take morphine.” She goes, ”Maybe I better have some.” Her nurse wiped the port off on her IV line and stuck the needle in and was getting ready to push it, and Janey looked at her and Janey said, ”Stop.” And she looked back, and she said, ”I want some of that for my daddy.”
And she said, ”Janey,” she said, ”We cannot give this to your daddy.” She said, ”This is a very, very, very strong pain medicine.” And Janey Janey looked at her and said, ”I know. My daddy’s hurting, too.”
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LAMB: Who were the other women we were looking at in the clips?
ENSMINGER: My daughters, Janey’s sisters.
LAMB: The oldest one’s name?
ENSMINGER: Terry. And then the younger one is Jessica.
LAMB: Where’s mom?
ENSMINGER: She lives in Jacksonville.
LAMB: Are you divorced?
ENSMINGER: Yes, sir.
LAMB: And how much involved has she been in this at all?
ENSMINGER: Oh, not at all. I mean, their mother was Japanese, or Okinawan. She’s got a language barrier. I mean, and in reality, anybody that was a civilian that would have taken on what Tom and I took on and the only reason that we I attribute our success is because we were career Marines and we knew the system. We knew how to where and how to find information and who to go to.
LAMB: How did you two set up your own agreement as to what would be included and not included? I mean, that’s a rather emotional part of that. What were the rules?
LIBERT: There really weren’t rules. We didn’t really set that up. I don’t know that Jerry knew what he was getting into when he agreed to and when I say that, I mean more the time commitment. You know, I don’t know that he anticipated four years or the fact that we were really going to camp out sometimes for days at a time at his house and not necessarily just film events. You know, I think that at the point that we met Jerry, you had done some you know, you had done some media, television stuff, but that was where someone would come in for a day and do an interview with him for a couple of hours. Certainly not the commitment.
And then over time, you know, a trust is built up. And so people allow themselves to become more vulnerable and share. And, you know, I assume you could probably speak to this better than I. I would assume that moments like that happen because Jerry felt comfortable enough that we would handle that material sensitively and with the respect it deserved. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have revealed that part of himself to us.
ENSMINGER: Oh, absolutely. I mean, in reality, I didn’t have a say on anything. They were very careful when they made the film to not allow any of us to see any of the footage. And I understand why now. I didn’t understand before, because I kept nagging at them, I wanted to see some of it, and they wouldn’t let me see it. And they explained after the fact that people who see the film or see themselves on film start becoming actors, and you can see that on some of these programs on television, when, you know, the ”Gold Rush” or the ”Deadliest Catch,” or whatever, you know? You see these people and they see themselves on film, and then in subsequent shows, they change, you know? And that’s why they wouldn’t let me see it.
LAMB: When you were around Jerry, the family and others, how many people were there with you?
LIBERT: A very small crew. It was myself, my co-director, who’s also the cinematographer, Tony Hardmon, and then we’d have a sound person. On bigger events, if we were filming a hearing or something, where there was there needed to be a little more logistical control, we’d maybe have an additional assistant. But for the most part, it was really just the three of us.
And sometimes it would just be Tony and I. And I would very poorly do sound, but attempt to, just because it might have been a sensitive situation, and we wanted to keep it just us.
LAMB: At the end of the film, you say that I saw I wrote down three names, Mary Duke Biddle, that name was there, the Park Foundation, and the Sundance Institute. Were they funders?
LIBERT: They were. They were all foundations that gave us different grants. And we had some other funders in addition to those, but they were some of the foundations that provided grants for the production of the film.
LAMB: Who’s the Mary Duke Biddle Foundation?
LIBERT: Mary Duke Biddle is a small family foundation in North Carolina. And they were interested, I think, in the topic because it’s North Carolina. And the Park Foundation is a fairly large foundation that also has an interest in North Carolina. They have roots in North Carolina. So and then Sundance just supports documentary films.
LAMB: On one level, this is a political story. I mean, if you depending on what side you’re on, you could be look at this and say, oh, it’s a bunch of baloney, you’re overdoing it, you know, there’s no proof there. I mean, that’s one political side you could take. Did any of these support this because they liked the politics of it?
LIBERT: I don’t think so. I think that the the hook for many of our supporters was the idea that this was an unusual messenger for an important environmental message. You know, people who support environmental issues are constantly trying to find a way to preach beyond the choir, to reach beyond their base of people who are already on board, and I think one of the things that’s very appealing about the film, but primarily Jerry as a messenger, is that you don’t expect this message to come from a career military person.
And through Jerry, you’re we’ve been able to reach this audience of military folks who maybe wouldn’t be attuned to the environmental message about the effects of toxins on health and things like that. So I think there was a real appeal to many of those organizations from that perspective.
LAMB: How far have you gone personally with trying to get somebody with a rank on their shoulder to pay attention to this?
ENSMINGER: I’ve requested to have audiences with the leadership of the Marine Corps for many, many years. And...
LAMB: How high have you gone?
ENSMINGER: I’ve had United States senators ask personally the commandant of the Marine Corps and the secretary of the Navy sitting right beside him, when are you going to actually meet Mr. Ensminger?
LAMB: And what do they say?
ENSMINGER: They won’t respond.
LAMB: And why not? What’s your sense of what are they afraid of?
ENSMINGER: The truth.
LAMB: But the truth leads to what? I mean, they’re not personally liable, are they?
ENSMINGER: No, not at all. It’s like I said, though. They’re protecting the institution.
LAMB: But I don’t understand. They talk about Semper Fi, always faithful. You talk about we always we never leave our own, all those things that you bring up.
ENSMINGER: Well, Mr. Lamb, one thing that they’ve done over the years is that they have obfuscated the facts so much, they have told so many half-truths and total lies, they’ve omitted a lot of information to the media, and now if they were to sit down with me face-to-face, I could show them with their own documents and counter what they’ve been saying, and they don’t want to do that.
I mean, I have been very, very cautious throughout this entire fight to speak truth. I’ve told Mike Partain , when he got involved in it, and everybody else that gets involved in this situation, don’t ever speculate. If you’re talking to the media, if you’re talking to Congress, never speculate. If you don’t have a document out of their own files to back up what you’re saying, keep your mouth shut.
And going back to Mike Partain , when Mike got involved in this back in 2007, Tom was starting to fall out of the hike. Tom’s in his 80s. And Mike was a godsend. I mean, Mike has a degree in history. And he has also got investigative skills, because he is an insurance adjuster. He couldn’t he couldn’t pay to raise his family on high school teacher’s pay, history teacher’s pay, so he went and got a job as an investigator.
LAMB: Here’s some more from the documentary. We talked earlier about TCE and PCE, and then the benzene’s another part of it. These are the firefighters. Let’s watch, and I’ll ask you more.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ENSMINGER: Would any of you be interested in speaking to an Associated Press reporter?
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: Yeah.
ENSMINGER: This thing about the fuel, this is going to explode.
DAN RATHER: Good evening. Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina, is the place where thousands of young Marines...
KATIE COURIC: In other news, the stunning and very upsetting admission today from the federal government...
BRIAN WILLIAMS: ... a form of cancer that might have come from the water they used every day. They told their story in Washington...
RATHER: Scientists and federal investigators now believe Camp Lejeune may be the worst example of water contamination this country has ever seen.
ENSMINGER: They were told to dump it, get rid of it.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: We weren’t dumping toxic chemicals into the ground.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: Really?
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: We’ve got to get to the bottom of this, and that means Congress is going to have to press the Marine Corps for answers.
RATHER: Take care of yourself.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: Thank you.
RATHER: Semper Fi.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: It’s nice meeting you. Semper Fi to you, too. And I mean that.
RATHER: Take care. Thank you. And I mean it in return. Thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LAMB: Is Dan Rather an ex-Marine? Former Marine. Excuse me. You don’t say ”ex.” Is he?
LIBERT: I believe he is, correct? Yeah. Yeah.
LAMB: You know, if you listen to what words are being used, the journalists were saying scientists say. But the people who have the most at stake it seems to me, the military leaders and the officers, won’t even talk about this.
LIBERT: You know, I think the interesting I don’t understand entirely why they won’t speak of it. I do think there is a certain element that they hope this would go away, and I think they’ve hoped it would go away from the beginning. And the hope is that Jerry will give up, or that the film won’t get a lot of attention, or that the issue and so it’s been amazing, where each effort that Jerry and his coalition, you know, each effort that they make gets more and more attention, and that keeps the issue alive.
LAMB: How much of this might be that they’re worried that it’s going to cost millions of dollars to get out of it?
ENSMINGER: Oh, absolutely.
LIBERT: Well, and I think the other aspect is, it’s not just Camp Lejeune. There are hundreds of military sites from all branches that have environmental issues.
LAMB: Did you say in the documentary 130?
LIBERT: There are 130 that are on the Superfund list, so the worst of the worst. And then there’s probably thousands more that have that aren’t on the Superfund list, but have varying levels of contamination. So when you talk about the overall problem, I think that potentially that gives you a hint as to why they hope this goes away.
LAMB: Well, go back to the money thing. What about the reverse of that, that they’re sitting there looking at you saying, all top wants is money.
ENSMINGER: You know, I’ve never any time that I’ve ever spoken about this issue, either testified or on interviews, I’ve never raised the issue of money. I want the truth. I mean, money is second or third. I mean, no amount of money is going to bring Janey back or any of these other people that have died.
LAMB: What’s the worst situation you heard of in this besides obviously losing a daughter, but is there a situation where a whole family is has gotten cancer?
ENSMINGER: There’s a person that was featured in the film, Mary Freshwater , who describes the loss of her two infant sons at one of the meetings, and she holds up the little blue jumper and describes the death of her kids. And just two weeks ago, she called me one evening, late afternoon, crying. She has now been diagnosed with leukemia.
LAMB: And how many in her family total, then?
ENSMINGER: That’ll be three that have...
LAMB: Let’s I’ve got the political side of this, Brad Miller, who is also not going to run again for Congress from North Carolina, a Democrat, let’s run the part where you’re introducing the Janey Ensminger Act. By the way, before we do that, where does the name Ensminger come from?
ENSMINGER: German. Germany. It’s the most Ensmingers you’ll ever find anywhere in the United States are Pennsylvania, so...
LAMB: And what do people do with that name? Do they give you a nickname, make it easy on them?
ENSMINGER: No, because it’s not really that hard. I mean, people make it harder than what it is, but if you if you spell it the way you sound it out, Ensminger, it’s very easy.
LAMB: Here is the testimony.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ENSMINGER: I am the father of Jane Yoshi Ensminger, the 9-year-old little girl for whom this bill is named. I can only surmise that had this conduct been demonstrated by a private industry and not a Department of Defense entity, they would have most certainly found themselves in a federal courtroom long ago. It is my hope that someday soon all of us will finally be allowed to achieve some much-needed closure and justice. May God bless Janey and may God bless you for bestowing this honor upon her. Thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LAMB: I have in my hands H.R. 1742, May 5, 2011. That’s the act that was introduced. And then from the U.S. Senate, I have S. 277. What’s I ask you both, that was February of 2011. I ask you both, what’s happened to this legislation?
ENSMINGER: H.R. 1742, which is the Janey Ensminger Act on the House side, because it involves the Veterans Administration, control of that bill was turned over to the House Veterans Affairs Committee. The current chairman of that committee is a Representative Jeff Miller from Florida. He has been sitting on it. He would not even allow the committee to consider it.
And several weeks ago, on a Friday afternoon at 3:45 in the afternoon on a Friday before a whole week’s recess for President’s Day recess of Congress, he puts out a press release and wrote a letter to General Shinseki asking General Shinseki to please consider awarding some of these benefits to veterans and their families, and he cited a $3 billion overage in the V.A.’s F.Y. 2012 budget.
And I saw this stuff. And I immediately got on the phone and called an ally of mine on the Senate side who deals with the Veterans Committee over there, and I said, what’s this about a $3 billion overage? And you’ve been looking for a pay-for for S. 277 for over a year. And he said, Jerry, that $3 billion overage has been allocated. It’s been allocated to caregivers and V.A. facilities and homeless, homeless veterans. He said it’s gone.
I said, well, why is this guy writing this letter to Shinseki? It was a bait-and-switch. He was trying to put the blame off because the film was coming out, and it was going to be aired on national television the following week, and he was trying to take the monkey off his back because he hasn’t done a thing with it.
LAMB: Rachel Libert, how close have you paid attention to the politics of this yourself?
LIBERT: Quite a bit, I mean, certainly in the making of it. And then, you know, the at every screening and every opportunity that the film is shown, the the first question practically from an audience is, what can we do? And it’s primarily about the legislation.
And so we have built in a take action portion of our website so that people have a little bit of help in finding a way to get the support of the legislation. And we hand out leaflets and flyers at our screenings to point people in the right direction to contact their representatives and senators to support the legislation.
There is a real really a strong sense of desire to do something when the lights go up, so we feel a responsibility to be able to help channel that energy, to support their efforts. We feel it’s a really great opportunity to be able to do that.
LAMB: In the Senate, Senator Hagan, Senator Burr from North Carolina are co-sponsors. Senator Nelson of Florida and Senator Grassley of Iowa, and Senator Grassley is the only Republican in that group. And then the other...
ENSMINGER: No, no, no, Senator Burr.
LAMB: Oh, I’m sorry. You’re absolutely right. My apologies. And but in the House, how many of those are Republicans? There are about 12...
ENSMINGER: A handful. Out of the out of all the co-sponsors, I think there’s about five or six, maybe seven.
LAMB: So this is not a partisan thing?
ENSMINGER: Well, it shouldn’t be. I mean...
LAMB: Do you sense that it is, though, from your perspective?
LAMB: And explain that.
ENSMINGER: Well, Senator Burr introduced the bill on the Senate side. He is a Republican. And this in reality should be a nonpartisan issue. I think I think the most abused phrase on Capitol Hill or in Congress is ”thank you for your service.” You know how you know how angry that makes me? ”Thank you for your service, but don’t ask me for anything.” You know? Quit thanking me for my service and do something.
I mean, there’s I don’t know how many people who want to wrap themselves in our flag and stand up in front of the cameras and the bright lights and give flowery speeches while you have a choir humming ”America the Beautiful” behind them. But when they leave out from in front of the cameras and the bright lights, they do the complete opposite.
LAMB: How much exposure have you had on this film? And what happened at the Oscars?
LIBERT: All right. So the film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, which was a wonderful launching pad, and we received quite a bit of attention there.
LAMB: Last a year ago April?
LIBERT: Almost a year ago April, yeah, exactly. And after that, we started screening the film all over the country. And we did actually do a special screening on Capitol Hill last June, right before the Senate vote on the on 277.
It’s received a tremendous amount of coverage, and then we made it to what’s called the Oscar shortlist, which is the top 15 films vying for an Oscar. We didn’t actually make the final five, but that was a big push for the film.
And then the last sort of thing that happened was we a shortened version of the film aired on MSNBC about a month ago. And so each it’s been timed out really nicely, so it sort of settles down for a moment, and then a new hit of attention happens. But it’s been great.
LAMB: Can you tell us give us a ballpark figure about how much this cost you?
LIBERT: You know, I can’t really, because there was so much that was, you know, deferred or in-kind, in the way that many of these things are made. It’s certainly much less than a feature film and probably most things on television.
LAMB: Would it be more than a million or less than a million?
LIBERT: Less than a million.
LAMB: And did you get paid to do this?
ENSMINGER: Oh, absolutely not. I mean, it wouldn’t be a truly be a documentary if the people that were in it got paid. And I don’t expect any money for it.
I mean, I look at it this way. What they were doing with this film and what this film would mean for this issue in forwarding and advancing this issue was it’s priceless. I mean, just like your program here. Our founding fathers really knew what they were talking about when they when they put freedom of the press in.
LAMB: When did you retire from the Marine Corps?
LAMB: What have you been doing since then?
ENSMINGER: I did some work, environmental work for a while. I farmed. And but this got so I got so involved in this that this is a full-time job with no pay. That’s...
LAMB: And what is your sense of the political system after you’ve been through this?
ENSMINGER: What a mess.
LAMB: Why do you say that?
ENSMINGER: It’s it’s so polarized. Our politics are so polarized that and there has been this sense of divide and conquer tactic that’s being employed in politics that that they take items that are divisive, and instead of our politicians bringing our country, citizens together to find solutions for problems, they’re finding wedge issues to divide us.
And it’s that has now spread from Capitol Hill out into the public. You’ve got to be fearful about who you back and support in a campaign anymore because people will retaliate against you.
LAMB: And what’s your reaction to the political system?
LIBERT: It’s been eye-opening for me. I think the thing that was probably the most eye-opening I don’t consider myself a naive person, but I I actually believed that our regulatory agencies were doing their job and protecting us, bottom line, that things that were really, really harmful and known to be carcinogens wouldn’t really be in our environment, in our water and things. And in making this film, I realized that that system is very flawed and that we aren’t as protected, and that was a very difficult thing for me to accept.
I mean, I certainly didn’t go into it thinking, oh, the government’s perfect and there are no problems, but that was a big revelation.
LAMB: Before we end, let’s go back to the beginning of all this. What is your claim now? Your daughter died at age nine. She was sick for how long?
ENSMINGER: Nearly two-and-a-half years.
LAMB: And her illness, again, was?
ENSMINGER: Acute lymphocytic leukemia.
LAMB: And at this stage, though, your claim is and all of the people that got the men that got the breast cancer out of Camp Lejeune is what? And what proof do you have that it that things are toxic?
ENSMINGER: Well, ATSDR did a survey of the in utero population, and they found 12,600 of the out of the estimated 1,600 or 16,500 births that took place during from between 1968 and 1985, the childhood leukemia rate in that population is two to three times higher than what the national average was for that same period.
LAMB: And ATSDR belongs to what organization?
ENSMINGER: It’s part of the CDC, the Centers for Disease Control, and...
LAMB: And that’s a government institution?
ENSMINGER: Well, sure. It’s part of the Department of Health and Human Services.
LAMB: Now, does the CDC pass any of this on to the Marine Corps?
LIBERT: They’re very involved in the process. I mean, they are certainly aware of the health studies. And they’re dependent on the Marine Corps for much of the information, correct?
ENSMINGER: Yeah, see, and that’s a problem with our system, is that Department of Defense entities, the branches of the service, they control the documents for their pollution sites, and they are currently right now dictating to ATSDR what ATSDR can and can’t use in their study reports.
LAMB: Let me end by asking Rachel Libert to tell us where somebody can see this documentary.
LIBERT: Absolutely. I’m very happy to say that it is available on Netflix Streaming, on iTunes, and on Amazon, so it’s available digitally now. Hard DVDs will be available later this year, but it’s streaming on all those venues.
LAMB: Last quick question. How long are you going to keep doing this?
ENSMINGER: Until the Marine Corps lives up to our motto, which is Semper Fidelis, which is Latin for ”always faithful,” or when somebody pats me in the face with a shovel and blow ”Taps” over me.
LAMB: Jerry Ensminger, former master sergeant, United States Marine Corps, and Rachel Libert titled for this co-director?
LAMB: Thank you. And the documentary is called ”Semper Fi: Always Faithful.” Thank you both.
ENSMINGER: Thank you.
LIBERT: Thank you.