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Here’s to the Heroes: Remembering Mesothelioma Patient, Vietnam Veteran and Navy Trailblazer, Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt, Jr.
Asbestos doesn’t discriminate. Age, sex, whether you were exposed to asbestos in a laboratory or from washing your husband’s dirty clothes from his job in construction — it doesn’t matter. And sadly, the toxin asbestos doesn’t consider it off-limits to hurt servicemen and women while they are sacrificing their lives to the call of duty. From the Army, Air Force, Marine Corps to the Navy, many men and women of the U.S. military have been exposed to asbestos and developed mesothelioma because of it. In fact, while veterans represent just eight percent of the nation’s population, veterans make up a significant amount of all known mesothelioma deaths, up to 30 percent. While every branch of the military handled or may have been exposed to asbestos prior to the 1970s, it was the Navy that was in particular contact with asbestos. So today, it is the Navy whose veterans are particularly suffering from mesothelioma.
Between 1930 and 1970, almost every ship commissioned by the United States Navy had several tons of asbestos insulation in the engine room, along the miles of pipe aboard ship and also in areas like the walls and doors that required fireproofing. From World War II to Vietnam, the people who repaired these ships in the Navy shipyards and the sailors who manned these ships were prime candidates for asbestos exposure.
They survived war and brutality, but mesothelioma is something else entirely — there are no odds of survival. Today, these Navy Veterans exposed to asbestos on duty are our mesothelioma heroes. And, today, we salute just one of the hundreds of those mesothelioma heroes, Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt, Jr., a man who fought for his fellow Navy men and women to his last day.
Admiral Zumwalt served as the Commander of US Naval Forces Vietnam (COMNAVFORV) from 1968 to 1970. In 1970, Admiral Zumwalt became the youngest Chief of Naval Operations in history at the age of 49. He served at the helm of the U.S. Navy for four years and did an incredible amount of good with his famous directives, known as Z-grams. Issuing 121 Z-grams in total, Admiral Zumwalt effectively altered the way the Navy had operated for almost two centuries, finally providing equal opportunities for all in the US Navy. Prior to Admiral Zumwalt, there had never been an African American admiral and African Americans had few prospects for advancement while women were not allowed to serve on ships. But as Admiral Zumwalt once said, “There is no black Navy, no white Navy — just one Navy — the United States Navy.”
In 1970, Admiral Zumwalt issued what he would consider his most important directive, “Equal Opportunity in the Navy.” The directive required commanders of aircraft squadrons, ships and bases to appoint a minority member as a special assistant for minority affairs and demanded that the Navy fight housing discrimination against African American sailors in the cities where they were based. Admiral Zumwalt never forgot the details either: His self-proclaimed most important directive also required books by and about African Americans be made available in Navy libraries.
In 2000, Admiral Zumwalt died from mesothelioma from his exposure to asbestos aboard US Navy Ships. Unfortunately, his family also suffered another tragedy related to toxic chemicals and substances in the Navy, the tragic death in 1988 of Zumwalt’s son, Elmo R. Zumwalt III, from leukemia as a result of exposure to Agent Orange, an exposure that Zumwalt himself had ordered in Vietnam in order to draw back enemy lines.
Since then, no single man has done more to recognize the consequences of Agent Orange and help provide benefits to those who were affected than Admiral Zumwalt. Just two years before he was diagnosed with mesothelioma and passed away a year later, Admiral Zumwalt testified in Congress in 1997, urging the United States to sign a treaty banning chemical weapons. He testified saying, “Every man and woman who puts on a U.S. military uniform faces possible injury or death in the national interest. They don’t complain; risk is part of their job description. But it is also part of the job description of every U.S. senator to see that this risk not be increased unnecessarily.”
And that’s the whole point right there. “To see that this risk not be increased unnecessarily.”
Baron and Budd represented Admiral Zumwalt Jr. and his family in his mesothelioma lawsuit not because Admiral Zumwalt was being unpatriotic, not because he regretted his time served or the injuries endured; instead, we represented Admiral Zumwalt Jr. in order to help him advance the fight he fought his whole life: to make the lives of those who served better, safer and more equal and to make sure that they were never harmed unnecessarily during their service to our country. In fact, we did NOT sue the military as part of this lawsuit, we sued the manufacturers that made the asbestos-containing products that Admiral Zumwalt was exposed to, and that ultimately contributed to his mesothelioma.
We look forward to helping you continue Admiral Zumwalt’s mission.