For nearly 80 years, recruits reporting to central California’s Fort Ord considered themselves the lucky ones, privileged to live and work amid sparkling seas, sandy dunes and sage-covered hills.
But there was an underside, the dirty work of soldiering. Recruits tossed live grenades into the canyons of “Mortar Alley,” sprayed soapy chemicals on burn pits of scrap metal and solvents, poured toxic substances down drains and into leaky tanks they buried underground.
When it rained, poisons percolated into aquifers from which they drew drinking water.
Through the years, soldiers and civilians who lived at the U.S. Army base didn’t question whether their tap water was safe to drink.
But in 1990, four years before it began the process of closing as an active military training base, Fort Ord was added to the Environmental Protection Agency’s list of the most polluted places in the nation. Included in that pollution were dozens of chemicals, some now known to cause cancer, found in the base’s drinking water and soil.
Decades later, several Ford Ord veterans who were diagnosed with cancers — especially rare blood disorders — took the question to Facebook: Are there more of us?
Soon, the group grew to hundreds of people who had lived or served at Fort Ord and were concerned that their health problems might be tied to the chemicals there.
The Associated Press interviewed nearly two dozen of these veterans for this story and identified many more. AP also reviewed thousands…