Tribeca: “Semper Fi” – one marine fights the system (the Department of Defense)

This entry was posted on 24.04.2011

Jerry Ensminger in "Semper Fi: Always Faithful". Photo: image.net

Jerry Ensminger in "Semper Fi: Always Faithful". Photo: image.net

Jerry Ensminger is not your typical environmentalist. Nor does the patriotic ex-marine, who loves hunting, seem to be the kind of guy who fights for health insurance. But maybe it needs a stubborn person like him to fight the system – especially if the system is the Department of Defense. Rachel Libert and Tony Hardmon show Ensminger’s struggle to uncover one of the worst cases of water contamination in the USA in their moving documentary “Semper Fi: Always Faithful”.

Jerry’s daughter Janey died of a rare form of leukemia when she was nine years old. “The question why (she died) never goes away,” Ensminger explains. In 1997 the ex-marine finally finds an answer: When the child was conceived, Ensminger and his wife lived on the Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. For decades the water was polluted with TCE (Trichloroethylene), PCE (Perchloroethylene) and Benzene.

Thousands of people lived on Camp Lejeune, until the contamination was finally discovered in the early Eighties. But the Department of Defense tried to cover this up, despite dozens of cases of leukemia and various forms of cancer, including the rare male breast cancer. It truly needed somebody like Ensminger to help the victims. As it turns out, the Department of Defense is America’s largest polluter

“Semper Fi” impresses because it shows regular people – people who believe in the Army and in their country, people with a thick Southern accent who live the motto of the Marine Corps (“Semper Fi” means “Always Faithful”). These aren’t “weird” environmentalists from New England or California. It almost makes their fight for their case more valid.

Some of the stories Rachel Libert and Tony Hardmon tell are very tragic: A woman, a marine as her father, dies way too young of cancer – and way too early for her family to receive any support. And nobody can bring Janey, whose death is still a huge pain in Ensminger’s life, back. But at least there seems to be a little bit of a “happy end”: In 2010 a law, named after Janey Ensminger was introduced, which would help the victims of the contamination.

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