Honoring Admiral Elmo Zumwalt and Remembering the Service Connected Asbestos-Induced
Mesothelioma That Killed Him (11/21/2011)
Mesothelioma, as we know, does not respect fame, fortune, fitness, beauty
or power. It has taken down movie stars (Steve McQueen), athletes (Merlin Olsen), artists (Warren Zevon), politicians (Bruce Vento), and warriors, such as
Admiral Elmo Zumwalt.
Back in the late 1990s, when I helped launch the first-ever meso medical
research foundation (MARF), Congressman Bruce Vento had just been diagnosed. Although his plate
was full, and understandably he was reluctant to let the asbestos cancer
shape his legacy, he agreed to serve on MARF's board of directors.
Vento was exposed to asbestos while working construction jobs earlier
in his career.
About the same time, Admiral Zumwalt, who served as the Chief Naval Officer
from 1970 to 1974, was also diagnosed, and soon after he passed away.
Admiral Zumwalt was exposed to asbestos while serving his country on Navy
ships. His mesothelioma was truly a "war-related disease."
Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, Jr. will be remembered for many things -- his meteoric
rise in rank in the US Navy, his restoration of racial equality among
enlisted men, his efforts to upgrade the fleet and weapon systems, his
"Z-grams" (the famous directives which changed everything in
the Navy great and small), his criticism of "detente"and credit
for helping win the Cold War, his books, his run for the U.S. Senate --
but perhaps his greatest legacy was his success in convincing the Government
to study the health effects of Agent Orange and expand the benefits available
to exposed Vietnam veterans.
Zumwalt had a special interest in Agent Orange. His son, Elmo III, was
believed to be a victim of the dioxin-laced defoliant used on the jungles
of Southeast Asia as part of the U.S. war effort. Adm. Zumwalt, as commander
of naval forces in Vietnam, ordered the spraying. His son, a naval officer
in the Mekong Delta, died in 1988 of lymphoma believed to be linked to
his exposure to the chemical.
With characteristic zeal, Adm. Zumwalt set out over a decade ago to reform
the "see no evil" mentality at the Pentagon. He lobbied politicians
to take responsibility by appropriating the funds necessary to help treat
the thousands of Vietnam Vets who were suffering from Agent Orange-related
diseases. In 1996, Adm. Zumwalt's perseverance paid off when President
Clinton signed an order which added several new medical conditions, including
prostate cancer, to the eligibility list for medical benefits from the
Department of Veterans Affairs.
It took courage for Elmo Zumwalt to buck the system and speak out on a
problem that the brass very much wanted to ignore.
``No one has done more to face the consequences of Agent Orange and provide
benefits to sick vets,'' said Bobby Muller, president of the Vietnam
Veterans of America Foundation in Washington. ``Not many military officials
now want to deal with Agent Orange exposure.''
Admiral Zumwalt died of malignant pleural mesothelioma at Duke University
one day after greeting the new Century. He was a career naval officer,
who at age 44, became the youngest officer ever promoted to rear admiral.
At age 49, he became the youngest four-star admiral in United States history
and served as Commander of the United States Naval forces in Vietnam from
1968 to 1970. In 1970 he was promoted over 35 senior admirals to become
the youngest man ever to serve as Chief of Naval Operations. Time Magazine
hailed Admiral Zumwalt as "the Navy's most popular leader since
World War II." In 1974, Adm. Zumwalt retired as CNO and a member
of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Adm. Zumwalt dedicated his life to improving the quality of life of the
average sailor and restoring a sense of mission and fairness. Adm. Zumwalt
died from mesothelioma before he had an opportunity to marshall his considerable
influence to cast light on this war-related illness that few politicians
want to talk about. We would serve his memory well by doing what he would
have done: admit the mistake, take responsibility for it, and set out
to find a cure.
"I personally have reviewed more than 125 cases of mesothelioma among
individuals who were exposed to asbestos while serving in the U.S. Navy.
This is a tragic loss of life for those who have dedicated themselves
to serving our country. We owe it to these men and women to do everything
possible to find a cure for this dreaded disease, which is presently uncurable
in most cases."
Dr. Victor Roggli
Director of Pathology
Duke University and Virginia Medical Centers
*** POSTED FEBRUARY 3, 2000 ***
A Killer Lurks Below. by James Zumwalt (5/16/07)
An Opposition Letter to the FAIR Act by James G. Zumwalt (7/18/05)
A Bill That Harms Asbestos Victims (4/28/05)
Col. Jim Zumwalt Speaks Out: Declare War on Asbestos, Defeat the Bail Out Bill (3/17/05)
Asbestos Bill Would Curtail Veterans' Rights. By James Zumwalt (4/26/04)
Statement of Lieutenant Colonel James G. Zumwalt, USMCR (RET). (5/23/03)
Statement of L. Col. James G. Zumwalt, II USMCR (Ret.) On Ban Asbestos
in America Act of 2002 (6/17/02)