Beirut bombing survivor faces battle with cancer
*Update: Marine Corps veteran Keith Ezell passed away on March 15, 2023. Our thoughts are with Kim Ezell and the family during their time of grief.
Keith “EZ” Ezell was in 8th grade the first time he saw a Marine in dress blues stroll down his school’s hallway.
“I knew right then that’s what I wanted to do,” he said.
When the time came, Keith enlisted in the Marine Corps and, after recruit training, was sent to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. There, he graduated from infantry training school in 1982.
He then deployed to Beirut, Lebanon, with 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment as part of a mission with the U.S. Multi-National Peacekeeping Force. At the time, the country was experiencing civil unrest and bloodshed. Keith and his fellow Marines were there to serve as a deterrent to further violence.
“We weren’t there on a combat mission at all—though it turned into one,” he said. “We got toward the end [of our deployment] and the bombing happened. We were less than a month away from going home.”
On October 23, 1983, a suicide truck bomb struck a military barracks housing U.S. personnel. The bombing took the lives of 241 Americans, including 18 sailors and three soldiers. It was the Marine Corps’ largest loss of life in a single day since the Battle of Iwo Jima in 1945.
While Keith was not injured in the attack, the tragic incident left an impact on those who were there. As a young Marine, the enormity of what had happened was difficult to process.
“I didn’t really understand the outcome of it all,” he said. “At the time, I was just glad to be home.”
Keith was fortunate to survive the bombing. Later in life, though, he would face an invisible foe lurking within his own body. An aggressive form of bladder cancer had been waging a secret war against him.
According to the VA, scientific and medical evidence points to the development of certain diseases, including bladder cancer, as a result of toxins in the water at Camp Lejeune. Keith consumed the contaminants daily through the drinking water while he was stationed there. Thankfully, he was able to turn to DAV benefits advocate Don Inns for help.
Having also served during the Beirut bombing as a young Marine, and now being highly trained to assist with the processing of veterans’ benefits claims, Inns got straight to work on Keith’s case.
Due to Inns’ diligence, the VA approved Keith’s claim for service-connected bladder cancer. Additional benefits—such as Service-Disabled Veterans Life Insurance—were also granted. But DAV’s work on behalf of the Ezell family isn’t over.
“As EZ bravely battles bladder cancer, my job is to help put his mind at ease knowing that DAV is advocating for him and his wife, Kim,” said Inns. “Keith is now receiving hospice care. It’s important that he and Kim have the support and resources they need during this difficult time.”
As a nurse, Kim has helped care for her husband, but she knew they needed guidance in filing Keith’s benefits claim. DAV supports veterans and their caregivers, providing no-cost assistance in filing VA disability claims, and through the DAV Transportation Network, which provides free rides to veterans for the VA medical appointments.
“I felt instant relief. Because I might know medical [issues], but I don’t know [what paperwork] to fill out and send to the government,” she said. “It lifted so much off of me. I couldn’t have handled it without [DAV].”
“Those brave Americans who served in Beirut are too often forgotten. But no veteran should be left alone in the fight for benefits they have earned and deserve,” said CEO and National Adjutant Barry Jesinoski. “We must keep our promise to America’s veterans who fought for our freedom.”
Give today to ensure Marine Corps veterans like Keith Ezell, who were exposed to the toxic water at Camp Lejeune, have the support and care they need.
Were you or your loved one stationed at Camp Lejeune from August 1, 1953 through December 31, 1987? Learn more about how DAV can assist you with filing a claim.