BP spill leaves a member of the ‘Greatest Generation’ in limbo

Few people can forget the January 1961 Inaugural Address of President John F. Kennedy and his now famous challenge to, “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”  Likewise, few remember the words that immediately preceded this now famous quote as Kennedy professed, “In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger.”

Kennedy’s courageous military service is indisputable and clearly provided him the experience to make such a statement.  It was his elite status coupled with the tragic events of November 22, 1963, that made his words immortal. Otherwise, these words could have easily been spoken by any one of millions of young American men and women who have proudly served, and in some cases died, in the defense of freedom.

One such American serviceman was John Fox, a Santa Rosa Beach resident initially from Memphis, Tenn. Much like Kennedy, Fox’s mark on history was generally the result of being in the wrong place at the wrong time but his contribution to the war effort, although perhaps less publicized, was nonetheless memorable.

For Fox, like so many who served their country during the Second World War, the real story began years earlier. When he was just four years old almost to the day, the “Black Thursday” crash of the stock market on October 27, 1929 singled the start of the most severe and long lasting economic siege of our young country. The Great Depression, which lasted for the next decade, would reaffirm the creative, self-reliant character of the American people.

As the Great Depression was coming to an end, John was a freshman at Christian Brothers High School and upon graduation he immediately reported for military service.

Interestingly, his entry into the Marine Corps was delayed briefly at the request of then Memphis Mayor E.H. “Boss” Crump, who requested John be given an additional two weeks to report so that he could play in a championship football game against cross-town rival and perennial power Memphis Central High.

John, did report, as expected, and after basic training he was quickly shipped to the Pacific theater with the Fourth Marine Division. Most Marines hit just one island during the war, but John actually hit the three major islands and unfortunately for both John and his fellow Marines they were the three islands that recorded the greatest number of casualties and John lived to tell about it.

While in the service, John received two Purple Hearts and was recognized by the Commonwealth of the Mariana Islands for his efforts in the capture of Saipan, Tinian and Iwo Jima over 60 years ago. John returned to Memphis where he married his wife Edith and together they raised nine children.

John, who could best be referred to as a Roosevelt Democrat, worked hard his entire life where he contributed to both church and community — and above all paid his taxes. In 1999, after moving to the Destin area, he went to work for Southern Escrow and Title as courier driver in order to augment his retirement income.

At 85 , John now finds himself in a new war with the very government that he believed in and that he fought so bravely to defend.

You see John has worked for SETCO  for nearly ten years. Even at his age, he continued to put in a full day’s work five days a week. On April 20 of this year, that all changed with the explosion of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil rig.

At first, the events had little impact as few realized the disastrous consequences to come. As time passed, however, it became increasingly apparent that everyone — businesses and individuals alike — living along the northern Gulf Coast were going to take a financial hit.

On June 30, John was informed that he was being laid-off due to a dramatic decrease in the company’s business. John, like many others, submitted a claim to BP and was initially advised that he would receive compensation beginning on July 1.

Somewhere during the month of July, the government injected themselves into the process and claims stopped. Starting on Aug. 23, claimants were required to complete a new claim with the newly formed Gulf Coast Claims Facility (GCCF), which took over the claims process under an agreement between BP and the Obama administration.

As anyone who has had the displeasure of dealing with the GCCF knows, this process has become a bureaucratic nightmare.

Phone inquiries to the GCCF were initially answered after long waits by so-called claims advisors who could not really tell you anything. After a brief period, the phones were not even answered but you were asked to leave a message and someone would get back with you.

Somewhere along the line checks began to flow but generally for individual claimants. John, who remember has worked at the same business for 10 years, did not receive compensation and with no communication or explanation.

A 20-year-old at the local bakery and has never lost a day of work gets a check for $13,000. A beach bartender who can’t even substantiate his income gets a check for $20,000. Many who don’t even live in Florida or in any Gulf Coast state are getting checks.  For John just silence.

This went on for over two months. Two weeks ago, John attended the Honor Flight trip to the D.C. war memorial for veteran survivors of the war. On his return he found a letter denying his claim because it did not fall into a category that allowed for reimbursement.

So here you have it.

An 85-year-old American hero who has put his life on the line so that subsequent generations can stand in line and get a hand-out that they can’t even justify. An 85-year-old patriot who lay wounded in a hospital in Saipan longer than some  claimants have been in the workforce. An 85-year-old American who would just as soon give up his life as his freedom.

To treat a veteran in this way, particularly on the week prior to Veteran’s Day, is a travesty.