Casualties of War

"Henry and his parents were out on a family picnic,'' said Bill Cameron, an attorney who represented the Owens in a failed lawsuit against the government and the current landowner.

Cameron said the Owens family "were riding in a go-cart, and they ran across this thing. They took it home.''

For nearly two years, the unexploded shell was a source of pride to Henry and his parents, Cameron said, noting that the family even used it to crack walnuts. They apparently had no idea it was a live munition, left over from an aerial bombing range that hadn't been used since 1944.

In July, 2001, Henry dropped the ordnance while showing it to a young friend, and it exploded, Cameron said.

"Henry had all kinds of problems at school,'' said the attorney. "They were calling him 'Stubby.'"

Cameron sued the government and the landowner, and told ABC News he'd turned up records that showed the government had an agreement to clean up the site.

Indeed, government records show that "decontamination operations'' were conducted in 1950, '52, '55 and '56, and certificates of clearance were issued, though "many areas were restricted to 'surface use only,'" according to the records.

"They didn't find what the rain would bring up over time,'' Cameron noted wryly.

After they lost the lawsuit, Cameron said he lost touch with the Owens family, and attempts by ABC News to contact the family were unsuccessful.

"They were a very poor family,'' he said. "Henry's station in life could have been a whole lot easier if we'd made a recovery'' in the lawsuit.

Government Immunity

"There are extraordinary hurdles to suing the government, and there's a good likelihood that, if you do, the lawsuit will be thrown out before you get through the courthouse door,'' said Jim Walden, a former assistant U.S. attorney in New York, who was part of the legal team that got a torture rendition lawsuit, against former FBI director Robert Mueller, thrown out of court.

The government, Walden said, has sovereign immunity. And individual government officials cannot be sued for actions they took in the course of their duties, "unless they violated clearly established constitutional rights, and that a reasonable person would have had to know that his conduct violated the rights at issue.''

The bombing ranges — no matter how egregiously they may appear in hindsight to have been managed — are not likely to yield government compensation after the fact, Walden said.

So, most lawsuits focus on malfeasance on the part of the developer or current landowner, officials and attorneys involved in such cases.

Recognize, Retreat, Report

But, as another veteran military official pointed out, "hindsight is 20/20.

"You can blame somebody today for anything,'' said Ed Heasley, deputy director of the U.S. Ordnance Museum in Aberdeen, Texas. "Even going back to post-World War I, I think a lot of [the burying of munitions] may have been a lack of knowledge of these munitions, and what they could do if they were ever exposed again. I think it's just a lack of education &3151; environmentally [at the time],'' Heasley said.

"Forty or 50 years ago, you wouldn't imagine doing the stuff [developers] are doing today — they weren't regarding land back then. We have here in Aberdeen a situation similar [to Orlando]. They are finding munitions all over the place, mostly here on the post."

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