I learned a little something this holiday weekend from a veteran, and I’d really like to share it with you as we all celebrate Memorial Day in the US today.
On Saturday I attended the March Against Monsanto in Tempe, AZ. If you’re not familiar with the event, it’s taken place in major cities around the world every Memorial Day weekend for 4 years now. I’ll assume you already know enough from WalkaMileProject.com to understand why they hold the march. A US veteran stepped up to the microphone and spoke this year, and as I expected, he started his speech by mentioning Monsanto’s involvement in Agent Orange. I did not, however, expect what came next.
He moved past Agent Orange in Vietnam and dove straight into chemical contamination somewhere else… the United States. It turns out Fort McClellan, which closed in 1999, was next a town in Alabama that you’ve surely heard of before: Anniston. And while we’ve talked at length about what happened to the residents of Anniston, at no point did I realize the Army had a base right next door – one that also felt the harsh impact of Monsanto’s negligence.
The veteran’s name was Aaron Davis, a Marine and Army officer, and he then discussed his own service at Camp Lejeune, a large military base in North Carolina (there’s a film about it called Semper Fi: Always Faithful, that’s the trailer in this post). He then dropped a startling fact – the EPA lists 130 military installations in the United States as Superfund sites. We’ve spent decades exposing our soldiers to harm at the one place they should always feel safe – here at home. If you’re not familiar with the term “Superfund” (and don’t feel bad, I wasn’t either until researching Monsanto), here’s how the EPA defines it on their own website:
Superfund is the federal government’s program to clean up the nation’s uncontrolled hazardous waste sites. We’re committed to ensuring that remaining National Priorities List hazardous waste sites are cleaned up to protect the environment and the health of all Americans.
So Aaron then told his own story – one of his children born with a heart defect, another who has a sub-arachnoid hemorrhage, his personal health complications, and then the inspiring end result: his devotion to helping other service men get through their own trials and tribulations… being a mentor to those less fortunate than himself. In other words, still fighting to be a hero, despite feeling somewhat betrayed by the government he once fought for. Although, truth be told, he and all the other men and women in the Armed Forces, I suppose they fight for their country… they fight for their families… and they fight for their friends and fellow citizens. In our day and age here, the “government” probably never enters into any rally cry.
After he finished speaking, a few people went up to talk with him and take a picture or two, so I waited until he had a free moment. Then I walked up to him, held my hand out for a handshake, and said “Thank you for your service.” We proceeded to talk for a good 20 minutes. I offered any help I could provide, and I pointed him to my good friend (and Change The World Films Veritas Advisory Chair) Rodney Smith, who runs the nonprofit organization Helping Hands For Freedom, where I think Aaron might find some extra help in the work he’s trying to do.
The conversation was inspiring, but it was also saddening, as he spoke of problems so many vets face back home and in the aftermath. PTSD is a huge problem he said, and often alcohol is the treatment of choice. It seems like we’re not doing enough for the people willing to risk everything for our freedom.
But with people like Aaron still fighting the good fight, we need to focus on the inspirational, on progress, on moving forward and helping those who served. And of course, on this Memorial Day in 2015, we most certainly honor those who fought and paid the ultimate price for the United States of America… but let’s not forget all those who pay a different price every day. Let’s remember the people still here with us, and let’s honor and fight for them as well.
As we continue to move forward at The Walk a Mile Project, searching for the truth and trying to change the world for the better, I’ll remember and draw inspiration from those who make the work we do look much less courageous. From Agent Orange to Superfund US military bases, we’ve made serious mistakes over recent decades, and it’s time we all fight to make sure we don’t make any more. So on this Memorial Day, I hope we can all draw inspiration from Aaron Davis, from his brothers and sisters in the Armed Forces… and that we can honor them and walk that extra mile to make a difference.