No mention was made in his obituary in the Galveston County Daily News, but Marinus Van Leuzen was not solely a World War II hero. He was also a hero of the 1990's. He was one of the rare victims of the environmental police who did everything in his capacity to let the country know about the injustices imposed on him and to seek retribution in the courts for the violation of his civil rights.
Mr. Van Leuzen was born on October 23, 1920 in Edam, Holland. His family owned Prima Hollandsche Kaas, a company that made Edam cheese. After he died at a nursing home in Galveston on April 20, 2001, his obituary's references to his valor included only the background that some might think of as non-controversial, along with his community activities. The obituary mentioned that he was awarded many medals and citations for his "efforts" in World War II and that, because of his dedication and service, President Harry S. Truman awarded him honorary U.S. citizenship for his service under the Dutch flag. Obituary information is usually provided by the family of the deceased.
More than once, Mr. Van Leuzen's told me that President Truman invited him to become a full American citizen because he served on the U. S. side in World War II after Holland was overrun. He served a total of seven years under both the Dutch and American flags, he said. He became a full citizen, but because of the honor bestowed on him by President Truman, he did not have to apply and wait through the usual naturalization process. He decided to stay in the United States because he loved our tradition of liberty, he often said. Sometimes, however, he commented about the irony of being prosecuted in violation of the freedom he defended fifty years earlier.
Even though Mr. Van Leuzen was an old man when I met him, he never gave up the hope that some legal foundation would take his case to restore the taking of his property and retirement money and bring him vindication for the public disgrace that Federal Judge Samuel B. Kent imposed on him by ordering the huge apology billboard (picture & story) along State Highway 87.
The high point of his hopes came when U. S. Representative Steve Stockmen held an enthusiastic rally on Mr. Van Leuzen's property, denouncing the extreme prosecution for, at worst, a tiny wetlands offense. There was most probably not even a very small wetland on the property for several decades.
But after the 1995 rally and all of the attendant press given to the freshman Republican, nothing happened, in spite of countless letters, telephone calls, and visits to the Congressman's district and Washington offices. Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison's office quickly dashed our hopeful efforts to arouse her concern. Years of work to reach out for Mr. Van Leuzen to other members of Congress who served in various relevant reform roles failed.
During these countless hopeful discussions, we felt the irony of many aspects of the prosecution of Mr. Van Leuzen. For example, Mr. Van Leuzen owned his land well before federal wetland law came to be. We always wondered whether Mr. Van Leuzen's real "offenses" were his Dutch accent and his construction contractor's manners when the young bureaucrats first tramped onto his property accusing him.
Perhaps his biggest mistake was telling an enthusiastic federal bureaucrat, "You look like you're so young you can't piss past your shoes. You ought to respect your elders"
But all of Ken McCasland's, Mr. Van Leuzen's, and my letters, telephone calls, and personal visits to Congressmen and other officials came to no avail. Newspaper articles told his story, and other articles distorted it. Jonathan Tolman dug into the legal papers and wrote a compelling opinion article in the Wall Street Journal. Other prestigious commentators followed suit in their columns. But there was never any justice for Marinus Van Leuzen.
Even after, at great personal cost as well as frustration with the changing moods of federal bureaucrats, he build a moat around his house as a "restored wetland," even when years later, in an attempt to have peace in his last days, he removed his house and tore up the concrete slab, with his house damaged in the process and sold for a pittance, the federal environmental officials would not settle his case. After his health failed and he was in a nursing home, no longer aware of his own affairs, the Environmental Defense section of the U. S. Department of Justice finally discharged Mr. Van Leuzen's case through his family two months before his death. Although his escrow account was to have been used toward the removal of the house and the wetland restoration, the federal government took the full amount of the $39,209.75 accumulated from the $350 he paid every month from his retirement income to the account for almost eight years, plus interest, in addition to the sum from his family of $700 for two more payments that were still "due."
The record of lives destroyed by government repression in the name of environmentalism is growing.
Marie and Joe Hill came to me in a last ditch effort for help after their world came down at the hands of environmentalists who were interested in their beautiful 1,000-acre dairy farm overlooking Buzzard's Bay in Massachusetts. Even after they lost their beloved farm during bankruptcy, Joe kept working on his court appeals. But when Marie's health declined after she narrowly escaped death from a sudden medical attack, Joe wore down and quietly passed away while meticulously preparing his final appeal to the U. S. Supreme Court-without a lawyer. Marie, an immigrant from Bavaria, had a German accent and Joe had his own old world ways. They were just sweet old people who believed in freedom and wanted to meet expenses and improve their milk barn by cashing in on a small portion of their equity. But their property fell into the hands of the very interests who kept them occupied in court until they were bankrupted. Then, part of their farm was developed by the "right" people.
John Pozsgai, who was destroyed by federal wetlands regulators, has a Hungarian accent. After he fought in the Hungarian freedom movement, he fled to the United States for liberty. A few years after the aging Pennsylvanian finished an unjust term in federal prison, Rep. Dan Burton, the Chairman of the Committee on Government Reform, held a Congressional hearing on the extreme prosecution. The hearing exploded into the open the unequal, extreme treatment of selected small-time offenders by the Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency. Rep. Burton promised more hearings. "I'll not drop this, I will continue next year with more hearings," he told Victoria Pozsgai Khoury and others, while we conversed after the hearing last fall. Mr. Pozsgai is now a quite old man.
Will we forget Marinus Van Leuzen? What about Marie and Joe Hill? And John Pozsgai. Will he be honored and "made whole," financially and in the eyes of the law, while he is still living? How hard it is for Congress to make good what they have taken away.
Carol W. LaGrasse
August 15, 2001