JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Some veterans on the First Coast are not wearing the scars of battle, but some bear the lingering effects of contaminated water they drank as young Marines training at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
The base had a problem with ground water contamination over a span of three decades starting in the 1950s.
In 1977, six teenagers from Terry Parker High School joined the Marines looking for adventure, but time has taken a toll as three are now dead who trained at Camp Lejeune, two having serious health problems with one leading a healthy life.
Bob Kahaly is one of three classmates still alive and lives in Ponte Vedra Beach and spent more than a year at Camp Lejeune after graduating from high school.
"Diagnosed in 2001, stage four Non-Hodgkins lymphoma. I had close to 50 chemo treatments," said Kahaly from his home, where he currently headquarters a non-profit organization called the Poisoned Patriots Fund of America.
The government estimates as many as one million Marines and dependents could have been exposed to contaminated drinking water poisoned with trichlorethylene, tetrachloroethylene, benzene and vinyl chloride.
The sources of the contamination were leaking underground aviation fuel tanks that poured more than a million gallons in the ground water.
"My doctors said at the very beginning 'this is a very rare cancer, where did you get this?'" said Kahaly when he first experienced health problems.
Now he suspects he knows the answer: the water he drank and bathed in as a young Marine, who had just graduated from Terry Parker High School in Jacksonville.
Frank Oshman from Jacksonville was a classmate of Kahaly's who also joined the Marines as a teenager just out of high school.
He too is experiencing health problems.
"I have experienced some weirdness, sometimes will nod or stutter or whatever. They (doctors) say things will progress as time goes by," said Oshman from the docks of a local transportation company, where he utilizes skills he learned as a Marine.
"I put a few of the dots together that some experiences I was having could be directly related to chemical poisons, some side effects, some neurological effects," said Oshman.
Sandra Lamb is a Jacksonville mother who has questions following her son Edward's death. He was part of Terry Parker class who joined the Marines and served in Camp Lejeune. Cancer claimed his life at the age of 49.
"He could not walk always aid my chest hurts, neck started swelling," said his mother from her Arlington home.
She is not sure or not whether the contaminated water played a role in her son's death, but she suspects it probably did.
"It is devastating, heart breaking. I almost wish I did not know," said Lamb who keeps in touch with her son's Terry Parker classmates who joined the Marines.
Oshman and Kahaly are active in the organization they helped form to assist fellow Marines and families wanting answers about health issues related to the water at Camp Lejeune.
What Kahaly said what troubles him the most is the three classmates from Terry Parker who never enjoyed the prime years of the life.
"All five of us had some rare health issues and got sick in our early 40s, mid 40s. We lost three of our friends on or close to the age of 50. They should not have died at this young of age," said Kahaly.
This past summer, President Obama signed into law health care for Marines and dependents who could prove they had spent at least a month on the base and suffer certain health problems.
A mom who lost son and suspects the contaminated water played a role says it would be nice for someone to come forward with an apology.
"It would not change anything, an apology is always nice," said Lamb.
First Coast News