On Thursday, May 20th 1993, Bob Van Brocklin left a suicide letter.
“The stress from Exxon which brought about my financial stress, was too much to deal with alone. The end should be good and maybe my spirit will live. I have a lot of fear right now, but faith is all that is left. I wish I could have done more good for others but I guess my time is up.”
He was the former mayor of Cordova, Alaska. He shot himself.
He sat in Cordova High School on the 28th of March 1989, four days after the spill. Don Cornett had been sent by Exxon to talk to local fishermen and families.
Mr. Cornett lied to Mayor Van Brocklin and everyone else that day.
“I am here to tell you what we are going to do about [the oil spill]”.
“I’m going to show you what we are doing about it. And we are doing the best job that has ever been done on an oil spill. And watch, just watch… You have had some good luck, and you don’t realize it. YOU HAVE EXXON. AND WE DO BUSINESS STRAIGHT!”
“We will consider whatever it takes, to keep you whole. You have my word on that – Don Cornett. I told you that.”
Sadly, Bob Van Brocklin wasn’t the only suicide over the Exxon Spill. Many Alaskans, desperate for their lost identities, took their own lives.
With no end in site to the BP Hemorrhage in the Gulf of Mexico, recent news of a fisherman taking his own life was hardly a surprise.
William Allen Kruse, 55, a charter boat captain recently hired by BP as a vessel of opportunity out of Gulf Shores, Alabama, died Wednesday morning before 7:30 a.m. of a gunshot to the head, likely self-inflicted, authorities said.
I know what it is to go from being a fisherman to an oil spill response contractor. I did it in 1989. It feels as dirty as the beaches-like you’ve just made a deal with the devil. The term “Spillionaire” that was thrown around to describe those who made money from the clean up effort doesn’t make up for salt sea spray on your face and the promise of full nets.
Domestic violence, bankruptcy, alcoholism, and collective depression washed up for years following the Exxon Valdez crisis. Twenty one years later, the herring fishery in Cordova is still decimated – genetic lines of fish erased.
This is only the beginning. Being a fisherman isn’t what you do, it’s who you are – the Gulf of Mexico or Prince William Sound is just geography. The toughest fishermen can’t win; they drown in court. The erosion of identity is invisible compared to the black wake of an environmental oil disaster. My father told me suicide was a permanent answer to a temporary problem. The BP disaster isn’t temporary though. There is no end in sight.
Take care of each other.