JACKSONVILLE, N.C. - The mothers did not know why their babies were dying at Camp Lejeune.
Jeri Kozobarich noticed something was wrong as soon as she arrived at the sprawling U.S. Marine Corps training facility in North Carolina, healthy and seven months pregnant, in the spring of 1969.
At a reception for the wives of the officers on the base, Kozobarich approached another pregnant woman who was "round as a ball" and dressed in black.
"When are you due?" Kozobarich asked.
"My baby is dead," the woman said, before turning away.
Horrified, Kozobarich raced home, unable to fathom such a fate. Then, at a routine weekly checkup at the facility's Naval hospital about two months later, she had to. A doctor told Kozobarich, who had no previous pregnancy complications, that the baby girl in her womb was dead.
Kozobarich, then 24, carried the baby for another three weeks until she delivered on May 24, 1969. Then she buried her first child in a section of a cemetery known as "Baby Heaven," tucked next to Camp Lejeune, where dozens of infant graves surround Kozobarich's daughter's and the tiny teddy bear statue that marks her headstone.
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As she and her Vietnam-bound husband grieved, Kozobarich said the unit's commanding officer visited their home with intentions to console them. Instead, she said, he sat down on their couch and burst into tears himself.
"He sobbed," Kozobarich recalled, "and he said, 'Why is this happening to all of us?'"
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