RIVERVIEW — Joe Moser gave his life for his country, his son says, 50 years after his discharge from the Marine Corps.
Moser was one of 71 men with ties to Camp Lejeune, N.C., diagnosed with rare breast cancer.
He blamed his cancer on Lejeune's polluted water.
Moser, 72, died Monday at his Riverview home of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis — Lou Gehrig's disease. Some believe the disease is linked to trichloroethylene, a solvent that contaminated Lejeune water before 1987.
"He didn't need to die," said his son, Sean Moser, 31.
Joe Moser became one of the best-known advocates for Lejeune veterans, often giving interviews. He also worked as a volunteer at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa.
In 2009, Moser's picture appeared on the front page of the St. Petersburg Times to accompany a story on Camp Lejeune's drinking water.
Moser, who had a mastectomy of his left breast, was shirtless.
"Joe had the courage to step up and step out," said Michael Partain, a breast cancer survivor who was born at the base. "A lot of guys don't want to talk about getting breast cancer. Joe was unashamed."
That made Moser an effective advocate for Marines and family members, Partain said.
Moser served at Camp Lejeune from 1957 to 1960, virtually his entire stint in the Corps.
He said in interviews that he was proud to be a Marine. But he said he had come to feel betrayed by the Corps.
"Now they're just trying to blow us off like it didn't happen," Moser said in 2009. "But it did happen. A man with breast cancer? Goodness. We're all disappointed in the Marine Corps."
Moser was a widower who worked in real estate before retiring.
He was diagnosed with breast cancer in February 2008. At first, he thought he was simply unlucky. He had no family history with breast cancer.
"I just figured I was that one in a thousand," Moser said. The odds of a man getting breast cancer are actually 1.09 in 100,000, according to federal statistics.
Then Moser read about Camp Lejeune pollution in the newspaper. At that point he knew, Moser said, that his cancer wasn't just some fluke.
He traveled to Boston last year to pose for a calendar showing Marine veterans or family members diagnosed with breast cancer. The calendar was done to raise awareness of breast cancer and raise money for research.
"We Marines are united forever by this," Moser said.
It was at the photo shoot that friends saw there was something seriously wrong with Moser. He fell on an escalator but wasn't injured. Friends feared a return of his cancer.
Partain, also at the calendar shoot, said Moser told him, "My muscles are giving out on me."
Earlier this year, doctors diagnosed ALS.
"He was so wonderfully proud to be a Marine," Sean Moser said. "And he was proud of that picture in the paper."
Said Partain: "It showed a lot of courage."
William R. Levesque can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3432.