Taking Responsibility

I came across an interesting biographical vignette that I thought you might enjoy as well.

Admiral Zumwalt died on 2 January 2000 at the Duke University Medical Center, Durham North Carolina after suffering with mesothelioma, a rare cancer of the lungs caused by his exposure to asbestos while serving in the Navy.

He had two sons. One of them was Elmo R. Zumwalt III, who died of cancer in 1988, possibly due to Agent Orange exposure in Vietnam. Elmo III was stricken with lymphoma in 1983, thirteen years after leaving the Navy for a career in law. In 1985, he was also found to have Hodgkin’s disease. Admiral Zumwalt said he felt his son’s illness was most definitely due to Agent Orange. He also mentioned that his grandson suffered from very severe learning disabilities that could possibly be traced to it as well.

The Admiral mentioned that he felt terrible guilt and shame over his decision to have US Navy planes use the infamous defoliant during the war. It should be noted that the younger Zumwalt said he bore his father no bitterness and did not blame him. Admiral Zumwalt and his son wrote a book called “My Father, My Son” where they discussed their family tragedy. The book was adapted for the 1988 made-for-TV movie starring Karl Malden.

After treatment in a number of hospitals, Elmo III went to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, in Seattle, where he received a bone marrow transplant from his sister Mouzetta, whose tissues fortunately matched his well enough for this treatment to be feasible. Results were promising initially but he died in 1988 at the age of 42. During his son’s illness in the early 1980s, Admiral Zumwalt was very active in lobbying Congress to establish a national registry of bone marrow donors. This was ultimately a disinterested act, since his son was able to receive a transplant from his own sister, but many patients don’t have close relatives who are able and willing to help in this heroic way. His efforts were a major factor in the founding of the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP) in July 1986. Admiral Zumwalt was the first chairman of the NMDP’s Board of Directors.

Sources: Wikipedia, The New York Times

I admire people who are big enough to take responsibility, admit when they have made a mistake and try to make amends. Rest in peace, Admiral. The National Marrow Donor Program saves many lives each year.

Over the years I have heard from many members who have served during the Vietnam war era and had been exposed to Agent Orange. Only recently has the VA accepted possible connection between CLL and Agent Orange exposure. If episodic exposure to Agent Orange can cause CLL, I wonder how many Vietnamese are out there with CLL (or other hematological cancers) after having been liberally doused with this nasty defoliant. CLL Topics has readership in more than 80 countries – but Vietnam does not figure large, possibly because of linguistic barriers.

Be well,