(WIS) - Amongst Thomas Blizard's flowers and plants – a reminder of his allegiance – the flag of the United States Marine Corps.
"My friends joined the Marines, and my brother joined the Marines, and they talked me into going," he said.
He never saw the Halls of Montezuma or the shores of Tripoli. Instead, it was Camp Lejeune, North Carolina that changed his life forever.
"We called it Swamp Lejeune because everywhere you went there was mud and water," Blizard said.
It was the water that hurt him.
"Well, we drank the water from the faucets," he said. "To me, it was water, and I just figured it had like a tin taste to it."
The government now believes that from 1953 to 1987, Blizard and other Marines were potentially exposed to industrial solvents and other chemicals in the water.
For Blizard, that first meant acid reflux and then Parkinson's.
"I didn't know what I had. All I know is when I went to pick up stuff, I would drop it, and I started doing this here," he said.
The government's now paying to treat his Parkinson's, and the director of Columbia's VA Regional Office wants to get that message out to the 50,400 other Marines in South Carolina who may have served at Lejeune and may also be impacted.
"If you were at Camp Lejeune and you now have one of these eight cancers or leukemias that are linked to this exposure, come in and let us know you have one of those disabilities and let us go ahead and compensate you for that," director Leanne Weldin said.
Even though his Parkinson's is getting worse, the 78-year-old's still proud to call himself one of the few and proud.
"Just don't be ashamed to ask," added Blizard. "Every morning I get up and say a prayer and ask God to lead me and let me help people out there."
The VA is looking for active duty, reserve, or National Guard members with any of these cancers or diseases who served at Camp Lejeune or MCAS New River for a minimum of 30 days from Aug. 1, 1953, through Dec. 31, 1987:
- Adult leukemia
- Aplastic anemia and other myelodysplastic syndromes
- Bladder cancer
- Kidney cancer
- Liver cancer
- Multiple myeloma
- Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma
- Parkinson's disease
More information can be seen in the following form: