Woman honors late husband’s memory, hopes to spread awareness about burn pits

GRANTS PASS, Ore. — A woman in Grants Pass is hoping to honor her late husband, while advocating for change after his untimely death.

“He said they were burning everything, because the military didn’t want enemies attacking the base, didn’t want anything laying around un-used, they didn’t want enemies to get a hold of it,” said Venera Valieva-Elesky.

Her husband, Bobby Elesky, served the Army in the middle east.

The Cave Junction native met Valieva-Elesky in her home country of Uzbekistan.

“He came to me and he said ‘I’m planning to go to Afghanistan and I want to stay in touch with you, do you have email?’ You know, being from a third world country, you have no idea what this person is talking about,” said Valieva-Elesky.

He would survive the war, but Valieva-Elesky believes his life was cut short years later.

In 2013, the couple learned Bobby had cancer. They believed it was the result of his time spent working on and near burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Anything that was un-used, I mean computers, batteries.. [they would] bring the bulldozer, push it all, pour the gasoline and boom!”

According to a study by Augusta University, Army veterans with long term exposure to open burn pits had higher mortality rates.

A veterans advocacy group, called Burn Pits 360, has over 7,000 veterans and contractors who self reported what they believe is service related cancer.

Bobby passed away February 17th of this year.

“His last wish… he wants everybody to keep fighting and I promised to him, of course once I get better and back on my feet, I’m going to be as loud as a crazy person and I’m going to be unstoppable,” said Valieva-Elesky.

Elesky’s remains will be interned at the Eagle Point National Cemetery.

His wife says she hopes to create a non-profit to continue awareness around this issue in the future.

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