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Hard Working Boilermaker And Poet-Warrior


Dear Mr. Worthington,

My Uncle Thomas C. Henderson is dying from lung cancer caused by asbestos. He was a boilermaker. To see him go from a strong healthy hard working man to frail weak and sickly man is both heartbreaking and unjust. He worked hard all his life and always lived life to the fullest. He didn't deserve this fate.

It is so hard to watch someone die who shouldn't. He should be enjoying his retirement, working on his books, playing with his grand-daughter and doing things with his family and friends, but instead he is laid up in a hospital bed struggling for every breath, suffering through chemo and radiation and so drugged that he doesn't even know we are there. It is so unfair!

I love my uncle, he is one of my heroes. He is part of what made America great. He has always been a fighter and now he is fighting the fight of his life. Eighteen months ago, they (his doctors) gave him 2 months to live and he proved them wrong, but I'm afraid this time he truly is in the End-game. This whole thing has angered me to the point of violence, but I know that's not how we settle things in a democracy.

The people and companies that caused this as well as all the other deaths should be made to pay, (my dad's cousin Bucky Woods also a Boiler Maker, died from lung cancer caused by asbestos). They should not be able to hide behind bankruptcies and lawyers while continuing to create their poison and death. Families should not have to suffer because of the greed of these companies.

What are we to do? I see all these law suits and settlements and that's all well and good, but it can never cover the pain and misery asbestos and the companies that make it have caused. It can never bring back our loved ones. I would get more personal satisfaction exposing the people responsible for this injustice to their own products so they can suffer the same fate as my Uncle and other asbestos victims. But as a Christian, an eye for an eye goes against Christ's teachings, so what are we to do? How do we deal with this? I'm at a loss.

My dad worked as Boiler Maker and has also been diagnosed with asbestosis. He said when they were working on blast furnaces and boilers, asbestos would be coming down like snow, that some workers during breaks would make a mattress and pillow out of asbestos and take a cat nap. The whole thing sounds to me like some sort of vision of hell. These men never knew the dangers they were being exposed to. The worst they thought could happen was that they might fall or be crushed.

So far my Dad has not shown any symptoms, but who is to say what the future holds for him. Medical science has nothing to offer and their cures are almost worse than the disease.

I don't know what I'm asking of you. I guess I'm just venting, but what can I do? How can I help? I'm an artist, what can I do to help fight this evil? This is the first time I've ever investigated the subject of asbestos and I'm glad to see that there are people like you fighting this. May God bless you in your work against this monster.

Thank you for your time.


Donald Patrick Henderson

June 30, 1998

Dear Roger,

Thank you for responding so quickly to my E-mail, but sad to say it was too late for my Uncle Tom, he passed away quietly yesterday surrounded by loved ones at 4 PM at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in his beloved Oakland where he grew up. It was a sad ending to such a wonderful man. He never complained or felt sorry for himself. He took this like the brave man that he was.

He had lied about his age and enlisted in the Navy at age 17 in WWII. He was on DE700, the USS Currier and was part of a Hunter Killer Group that hunted U-Boats in the Atlantic, later they were involved in the invasion of Southern France. After that he was stationed in North Africa, and after that he served on an LST in the Pacific. After his time in the Navy, he joined the Army and was stationed stateside.

In his life he raised 3 daughters, he traveled the world, he sat atop the Great Pyramid at Giza, explored the Valley of the Kings and he claimed to be the only man who knew how the pyramids were built. He was a very creative and talented man and I'm proud to say he was my Uncle. He used to proudly boast that "We are Hendersons" and as a child I never knew what it meant, but as an adult I learned from him and my Dad that it meant never backing down from a fight, to always do the right thing despite the pressures to do wrong, to walk tall and to always play the cards God gives you no matter how bad the hand, to make the best of life and don't waste it, to always work hard and that the price of doing something is always less than the cost of doing nothing.

He worked most of his life as a Boiler Maker here in Western Pennsylvania. Most of the family had either been Railroaders with the Pennsylvania Railroad or Boiler Makers. Boiler and blast furnace making was almost the family business. My Dad, his brothers and their uncles and cousins were all Boiler Makers. The Henderson and Woods Families worked every major boiler or blast furnace project in Western PA.

I remember as a child, when the steel mills were still working, driving by on the Parkway and them saying with pride "We helped build that". Names like Clearfield still stick in my head. I was just a small child when they worked at Clearfield. It must have been a big job, because they were gone a lot. There was always great excitement when they came home. They were the hardest working men I've ever known, my heroes. I was always so amazed at the stories and even dreamed of being a Boiler Maker like them, even though I had no idea what that was. I just saw the fire breathing Monsters on the Mon (the steel mills along the Monongahela River east of Pittsburgh) and was amazed that my Dad and Uncle Tom built them. Luckily for me, God had other plans and I became the first generation not to be a Boiler Maker.

I see you as a Freedom Fighter against asbestos. Alone we are just victims, but together we could be an army.

In the Irish Republican movement the Irish Hunger Striker Bobby Sands, MP said: "That we all have a part to play" The Hendersons are ready to play their part. You just say the word.

Sincerely and at your service,

Donald Patrick Henderson & Family

*** POSTED JULY 1, 1998 ***