The documentary Semper Fi (2011) is a story about Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune and how levels of chemicals (like TCE -Trichloroethylene, PCE – Tetrachloroethylene, Benzene and over 70 others) between 20 and 280 times acceptable levels were in the water military families were using between 1957-1987. It is a story about corruption, government cover ups and corporations splitting hairs over carcinogen definitions. It is about how more value is put over profit and plausible deniability than alleviating human suffering and doing what’s right. It is the story of the allegedly largest group of men found with breast cancer (current total 73), one of the rarest forms of cancer in men, and countless other ailments and tragedies that plagued people who lived at the base while the military turned a blind eye.
But more than all of that, it is a story about a father who relentlessly faught for his daughters memory and what was right. Semper Fidelis or Semper Fi means “Always Faithful” and Jerry Ensminger, who is the focus of the documentary, embodies this motto heart and soul. His strength of character and perseverance, as well as a slightly salty disposition, shows how the power of love can inspire one man to move mountains.
You know when I’m gonna quit? Either when you do what’s right by our people and live up to our motto or when you pat me in the face with a shovel and blow “taps” over my dead ass. That’s when I’m quitting.
~Master SGT. Jerry Ensminger
This is the kind of movie that will move you. In the film, Jerry tirelessly campaigns for the military to do something about the effects of the water contamination at Camp Lejeune when he finds out that his young daughters death from leukemia was not just an isolated incident. As momentum gathers and other people affected join the cause we hear more stories about what went wrong, but also how the brotherhood and sisterhood of the military bands together to support one another. As one woman advises, they were trained to fight hard and not give up, so their military roots are what pushes their inability to lie down. It shows that even if the administration has it wrong, the marine brother and sisterhood do what they need to do, and support each other to get the job done.
Although the triumphs are tinged with sadness and frustration, this is truly a great movie about the power of a fathers love and the true meaning behind Semper Fi .
Here’s a clip: