A few months ago, documentary filmmakers Rachel Libert and Tony Hardmon, had their provocative documentary “Semper Fi: Always Faithful” debut for small groups of film lovers on the independent festival circuit. But now they’ve had at least one of their prayers answered – “Semper Fi” has reached public theaters nationwide, a small victory in their plan to reach as many Americans as possible to shed light on the apparent injustice at Camp Lejeune, N.C.
“Semper Fi: Always Faithful” tells the story of Marine Corps Master Sgt. Jerry Ensminger, a devoted Marine for nearly twenty five years who lived and breathed the U.S. military. But when his nine-year-old daughter died of a rare form of leukemia, his world fell apart. Years later, he made the shocking discovery of an alleged Marine Corps cover-up that the drinking water at the Corps Base was highly contaminated by toxic chemicals for thirty years.
According to the film, it is estimated that almost one million Marines and their families were exposed to these high levels of carcinogens, a fact which was never exposed to the public. The film also alleges that to this day, only a fraction of former residents who lived there during 1957 to 1987 – many of who have lost children or are now sick themselves – even know that they were exposed.
“A big shocker is the fact that the Department of Defense is our nation’s largest polluter. The other thing that is shocking is the influence of special interest groups and polluters on the regulation of harmful chemicals. I think that will be surprising and disheartening when people see that the public health system isn’t as strong as it could be,” Libert told FOX411’s Pop Tarts column. “What I have an issue with is once the contamination was known nobody was ever told, that has never been effectively addressed. Not to notify all these people is a little troublesome.”
“Semper Fi” claims that the water contamination at Camp Lejeune is one of the largest in U.S. history, deemed “off the charts” by current environmental standards, and the filmmakers are currently calling on audiences to help push through the Camp Lejeune legislation that is currently pending in the House and Senate. The legislation would provide healthcare to former Camp Lejeune residents who were exposed to the alleged contaminated water.
“One health survey that has been completed looked just at children in utero, which is children being carried during these three decades, and it showed that there is higher numbers of children with leukemia and birth defects,” Libert continued. “They are now in the process of checking death records of soldiers from Camp Lejeune and examining if there are higher levels of cancers and those results will be out next year. They are also sending out surveys to 300,000 former residents to begin to determine specific numbers of those affected.”
But a spokesperson for the U.S. Marine Corps told us that “Semper Fi: Always Faithful” fails to fully address all of the complexities associated with the Camp Lejeune Historical Drinking Water issue.
“This is a very important topic for our entire Marine Corps family and a deeply personal matter for Marine Corps leadership. Some of our Marines, family members, and civilian workers have experienced tragic health issues they believe are associated with the water they drank or used in the past at Camp Lejeune,” Media Officer Captain Kendra N. Hardesty said.
“We are concerned about these individuals and are working with leading scientific organizations and medical communities to try to find science-based answers to the health questions that have been raised. We are also continuing our commitment to find and notify those who drank or used the water at Camp Lejeune during the time period in question, and keep them informed regarding the latest scientific and medical information. We also remain interested in present day conditions both on-base and in the areas surrounding our bases and installations.”
But according to Libert, the film is not about trying to undo the past . For those involved, justice is as simple as an acknowledgment or an apology.
“It’s the betrayal they feel which is paramount. These people really believed in the oath they took to this organization and when they found out it didn’t go both ways it really shattered everything they believed in,” she added. ““These people chose to serve their country, they never imagined that their families would be put in danger by their decision to join the Marine Corps. So far the reaction we’ve gotten from the rank and file has been so positive, there is still this strong brotherhood. The idea of taking care of their own, they really do take that to heart which is why Jerry and his coalition have been so effective.”
“Semper Fi: Always Faithful” is currently playing in select theaters in New York and opens in Los Angeles on Friday.