thumbnail of Atomic Veterans
Transcript
Hide -
If this transcript has significant errors that should be corrected, let us know, so we can add it to FIX IT+
4-B-2-1-H! I'd like to acknowledge that I got burned, I'd like to acknowledge that I was there. I was exposed. They won't acknowledge that. Half a century ago, the birth of the atomic bomb marked the beginning of an experiment that would last nearly 20 years. During those two decades of nuclear testing, it's estimated that as many as 220,000 military personnel were exposed to radiation, some deliberately and some inadvertently. Today, only about 40,000 of them survive. They call themselves Atomic Veterans. I was in good condition when I went into the military. I was playing football.
I was 220 pounds and solid rock, and I'd say like a whip anybody or anything. Half a century later, Al Gale is a sick man. I had a perforated mechle, which is one of the lower intestines that was perforated and leaking inside the avidum cavity. They took nine inches out, including the one that had the hole in it. I've had the gall better out. I've had the appendix taken out. I've had this mechle's taken out. The last thing they did for me was open heart surgery and set temple this last year. Al Gale, from Lordsburg, New Mexico, was one of 10,000 young American men who were captured in the Philippines in 1942 and forced to walk over 100 miles to prison camps. It became
known as the baton death march. Gale was left for dead twice, but survived. His Japanese captor sent him to Japan. That's where his real ordeal began. I was within a hundred miles of ground zero on Hiroshima. I saw the big mushrooming cloud and everything, and I was standing up. Before I knew it, the wave, the wind from that mushroom cloud knocked me flat on my butt. My next morning, my hands were red and all blistered, so was my face, and so was my feet. I didn't know. I showed it to the Japanese. I said, yeah, look at our people too. We had no idea what it was. And Gale had no idea what it might lead to. Within just a few years, he started to find out.
I had the meckles. Within a short time after I came back from overseas, and they took out what they said was the radiation that caused the whole in the meckles that caused this throughout the Avenue cavity, but they couldn't put it in the record. He told me it was wrong. He said, I can't do anything about it. They won't let me. We admit no liability. I could care less. I don't care. I'm glad to do my part for the whole US of A. Now nearly 50 years later in this El Paso living room, Gale feels differently. He's spent most of that time fighting his own war, trying to get compensation from the US government. Today, I get treatment every month for the VA. That's part of the radiation and radiation burns I got. These, he left. They just took some off from me here the other last week or two. I got some more over here. I got some on my back. I tell them about it, and they say, too bad. They said, we don't admit no liability. You weren't even there as foreign
workers. Would you believe that? Would you believe that the American government could tell me that I wasn't there? In the, these tests that I was on, there was approximately 46,000 men that participated. And today, there's about, there's 80% of them are already dead. Ted Garcia is one of the survivors. It was 1946. Garcia was only 18 when he had the experience
of a lifetime. He watched two South Pacific nuclear tests that would eventually make history. It was part of what was called Operation Crossroads. The first blast was nicknamed Able. It was aboard a troop carrier called the USS McKinney. And when we were out about seven to ten miles out, the blast that took place, it was, we could even hear it way out there. So it was a tremendous test, and the mushroom was a huge ball of fire. And it went up along the, went real high. Able in Presgar, Garcia. But the second blast knew his baker overwhelmed him.
Fifteen. Ten. Five. Four. Three. Two. One. Fire. The second test was, was an underwater test that was tied to a ship. And the bat test wanted to find the destruction underwater, what surrounding areas. To where those ships were, a lot of the ships were sunk with that, that tremendous explosion. And this ship was scattered all over the area. And they even rammed into each other. And there was just a tremendous impact. After the blast, it was Garcia's job to go back onto the ships and try to scrub off the
radiation. When we did finally come back in, we would go on those contamination parties. And we would try, what I cannot understand is how come the scientists and the people were running this test that would, would use human beings to go out there and scrub ships metal with chai brushes and soaps and whatnot. And we would go into the compartments in various places and scrub the ships. And then come back, back out, we would stay maybe three, two, three minutes and come back and regroup. But then we would go back to the ships where they had the testing. And they would have those Geiger counters and they would run them over our body all the way down. And those things would go just tremendously with
a sound. The meters would go completely crazy. And they would stop. And heck, they would go take a shower. We would go take a shower and come back and check over again. Go back. You still had a lot of radiation. And there was time, we would take maybe ten baths. And they'd give up, I guess, on us and say, okay, put your clothes on. And so we would go back. But we still, I know, for a fact, how in the hell can you watch the radiation off? Because radiation penetrates into steel. Yeah, so there's going to be several people that are going to be the generals and possibly the secretary of veterans affairs, Jesse Brown. Today, in his home in Los Cruces, New Mexico, Garcia has become something of an activist. As president of the state chapter of the atomic veterans organization, he spends most of
his time talking to other veterans who witnessed nuclear blasts. He also organizes letter writing campaigns and makes trips to Washington, all aimed at trying to get the government to live up to what Garcia says are its responsibilities. What I'm really fighting for is justice because there has never, never been a harden and say this and this and that. But all these men, as far as I'm concerned, we were nothing but guinea pigs and expendable. It's true that in time of war, you're expendable. You can say that you have conventional and non-conventional wars. Conventional, you get compensation for your wounds or water. Non-conventional, that's what I consider myself. We're not getting compensated for nothing. It's just that we just go on and it's just like a process
of elimination. Like other atomic veterans, Garcia wants compensation for illnesses. He developed shortly after he witnessed those two atomic blasts in the South Pacific. I was sent to Guam, which I still served, stayed in the Pacific for approximately two years. But in the process, I started having problems. I guess, I don't know, two to three years afterwards. But it was so funny that, you know, before when we were in the island, we started getting rash. We had rash. I had rash in my arms. And even today, my arms are all spotted. I have black spots all over. I've had operation. They had to cut them off. But I started, they
would tell us that, you know, they would paint us up and they said that it would just rash, but never not knowing that it was contamination. And it is contamination that Garcia blames for the other medical problems he experienced after he got out of the Navy and went to work for the federal government. But through the process of those years, I have gone through nine operations. Two of them were very, very, very bad. I had approximately 13 inches of my colon removed. And I've had softwares and a lot of stomach problems and knee operations and nose operations. And now I have a bad, the doctors don't know what I have as far as my throat. I'm always gagging and they claim that it is sinus problems. But I've gone through a lot of tests, but they
can't seem to find the problem. No more times Garcia submitted a request to the government for compensation. Each time his request was denied because officials refused to link his illnesses to his exposure to radiation. The government contends that Garcia received acceptably low doses of radiation while he was stationed at Bikini, but Garcia refuses to accept that claim. To say that out of 46,000 men, 80% are 80% is gone. That's a, what does it tell you? And you know the funny thing that every, every one, they talk the same language of all the symptoms, all the scenarios and all the things that we're all suffering. And yet they say that it is through everyday sickness. And Garcia says it's not just the atomic veterans
themselves who are suffering. He fears that he passed on his condition to his children. My oldest son died and it was such a bad death that you, people just don't generally die from diarrhea where they could have inherited my bad blood or what. But now one of my daughters has had so many problems with her life. There's nothing that can be, she has never been able to conceive. And so those are, those are factors, medical factors that I'm very bitter. Garcia is mad because he says he put his trust in the government. A trust that he says was betrayed. As far as I'm concerned, we were nothing but guinea pigs and expendable.
For Glenn Kellogg, it's another disappointment. Once again, he's been turned down by the government for something he feels they owe him. There have been 6,000 claim put him by the atomic veteran and the veteran administration. And there's been less than 200 have been okayed. So that law of average isn't too good. What one of mine is that law of average. You know, I've put him since 84 and went through the process of light one. Every one of Kellogg's claims
have been sent back to his home in reserve in New Mexico with the same response, denied. Kellogg has a disease called cerebellar degeneration. It's left the 56-year-old man practically immobile. I noticed it in 1965. And in 1969, I was fired from a job on a conventer laid off because of my clumsiness. And they could see that there was something wrong, you know. So then I started checking up on it. And the VA sent me to Long Beach, California, and they determined there was nothing they could do. I had the disease and that's it. And I've been told that all I could do was live, you know, best I could. C cerebellar degeneration
is the inactivity of the voluntary muster of moments. C cerebellar is part of your brain and it's just degenerating. It's going away and they can't tell me what causes it. And I hadn't got the money, you know, to go to the VA, to a private doctor and find out why. I just take what the VA is told me. And what the VA has told him is that the disease is hereditary. They said genetic, but then I proved to the VA to the death certificate, to the male participant that my family for three generations, that that wasn't the case. Kellogg believes he may have been a carrier of the disease, but it was his participation in a military project that he blames for bringing it on. I went on the flagship USS Boxer, nice off 28 of 35 cast of hard tag. So I was opposed
within 10 miles. The year was 1958. The operation was called hard tag. Kellogg had been sent to the bikini atoll to take part in the tests. They became routine for him. In the first 10 seconds, you cover your eyes like this. And they had a countdown. And went off. When you got up, you saw the column going up, the big column. The mushroom column was just starting in the 10 seconds. And then, of course, it got bigger and bigger. And I saw two underwater blasts. And I can't remember exactly how I've got it read down here. It's 1200 yards and one of them. And they had test ships. They said, you know,
they put them out there and then they let their sucker off. And man, oh, man, did it blow. And then, I saw a destroyer this way, you know, up in the air from it. And we felt a shock wave. For 20-year-old Kellogg and his shipmates, it was an adventure. It was kind of a big deal. You know, it's something to see. It was like, bad kind of, but I don't think I'd want to do it again. No, I'm not going on. But at that time, you were just a serious man and found an order. And they told him, we thought it was a pretty big deal. Now, looking back at those times, Kellogg cannot comprehend why he wasn't told of the potential hazards. And he's still searching for answers. Well, another question now I've had, what about the salt water? It went through a salt water, a centrifuge on the ship, or, you
know, it's converted to fire water. But they didn't, we drank that. We didn't take the, you know, I'm sure they couldn't filter the radiation. All the water, no water had to be hot. Kellogg often wonders how much radiation he was exposed to. Unlike some of his shipmates, he was not given a dosimeter, a badge which measures doses of radiation. This was the security badge that I always see here during a heart attack. It's not a dosimeter, it's a security badge. And I've come my friend said that maybe I'd always take it and have it diagnosed and see how much radiation it did receive because I wore it on my person at all times during heart attack, you know. Sorry, what a receipt, the same amount of radiation that I did.
That might help improve that his crippling disease was caused by his exposure to those 28 nuclear tests. But Kellogg worries he might be running out of time. What I think the government is trying to do is to stall off and they'll everybody dies and then they won't have to deal with the situation. Exactly 50 years after the first atomic bomb was detonated in the Mexico desert, atomic veterans are getting some recognition. The veterans now have a national holiday they can call their own. Thanks to a resolution signed by President Clinton in early 1995. They marked the occasion with a parade.
For atomic veterans, the event is one result of decades of struggle. A struggle in part let Americans know exactly what happened to these veterans. I'm tired of seeing atomic vets not get anything. You know, they don't. I don't think they get enough. They're not recognized as a legitimate group. I think it's going to open their eyes to realize that the government has been lying to them all these years about the how dangerous this atomic bomb stuff is. For Garcia, Kellogg, Gail and other atomic veterans, it's a time to celebrate. They've won more than just a national holiday. Over the past 15 years, they've succeeded in making some important legal headway as well. It started in the early 1980s when Congress granted compensation to a few atomic veterans.
In fact, out of about 4,000 who applied, no more than a dozen got any government assistance. It wasn't until 1988 that the group convinced Congress to pass the first major compensation law. The legislation recognized 13 cancers as being directly caused by radioactive exposure. For atomic veterans, it was a victory, but only a small one. To pay compensation, you have to have those cancers and just be dying. You know, who in the hell wants to know that you've got cancer and you've got three years or even less to die? Out of several thousand claims filed under the new law, the National Association of Atomic Veterans says less than 150 got compensation. We want to be fair. One congressman who sympathizes with the atomic veterans is the Mexico representative Joe Schene, but he also understands why the government has been hesitant to give blanket compensation to everyone claiming exposure
to nuclear radiation. I would think that you have to establish it on a case-by-case basis if you're going to do this because you can't al-Mas say that we were exposed. I don't know how many men that I have met throughout the country that in some of the conventions and meetings and whatnot that they've gone have made their claims and have not lived long enough to receive their compensation. There's an awful lot of scientific background that you're going to have to establish first to make some connection as to whether direct radiation caused it or not. And I'm not putting it off saying that you just can't assume that for every person who has passed away, there's been ever been exposed to radiation, that anybody who's been around the microwave or television set can say that I'm sick because of the radiation I'm getting from those appliances. They knew what was going on, you know. But they just wanted to downplay it and go from there, you know, they didn't want to
bring it to the surface just like now. They don't want to bring it to the surface because of the cost of too much money. In your opinion, do you think we knew about it? No, I don't think we did. I think that it's such a new technology that no one really was sure. Sure as dangerous, it could explode, it could irradiate you, it could this, but one of the results of that. How severe are they? How serious are they? No one knew because no one had ever experienced that situation. It is true in fact that we were deliberately exposed to nuclear radiation experimented by the US government. After years of wrangling with Congress, Garcia has taken his campaign to a different audience. We have sent so many letters to the senators and presidents that they have ignored us. So we think that I think that by going to the younger generation to know the unjust that we have gone through, that maybe they can do something about it to wake up the government.
High school students, who have only read about the Cold War and history books, seem fascinated by Garcia's story. Look, here, of course, got on the ship, at the beginning of the, I don't know what you call it, the test, do you think that they had it like, I'll plan down, I'll plan. It's a message Garcia keeps repeating and it may finally be getting through. In November, 1994, another piece of legislation was signed into law. This one giving doctors the right to decide whether a disease may have been caused by radiation. With that enactment of that law, it's still, it says that if you, that a doctor can say that you possibly could have been at your sickness or whatever, it can be attributed to radiation. But they always, they just say, it's possible, it's possible, but nothing firm. So their struggle continues, symbolized by these green ribbons.
We will not remove these ribbons until the atomic veterans have received their just compensation. Atomic veterans want that compensation to date back to the day they were exposed. They're also seeking official recognition that the Cold War was a real war and their wounds and diseases were casualties of war. But most of all, they want the government to admit what happened. They should be taken care of the people that provided the freedom for this country.
Program
Atomic Veterans
Producing Organization
KRWG
Contributing Organization
KRWG (Las Cruces, New Mexico)
AAPB ID
cpb-aacip-8e9cc517807
If you have more information about this item than what is given here, or if you have concerns about this record, we want to know! Contact us, indicating the AAPB ID (cpb-aacip-8e9cc517807).
Description
Program Description
Atomic Veterans shares the compelling stories of three men who proudly served their country--unaware of the price they would pay later. All have experienced long term, critical and chronic health problems, and many feel they have passed health related problems to their children and grandchildren. This program outlines their nearly 50-year-long struggle to convince the government to recognize their ailments as being related to their exposure to nuclear radiation, and as being war-related injuries. In addition to moving personal testimony, this production also includes rarely seen footage of the actual atomic blasts witnessed by the servicemen.
Segment Description
The last two and a half minutes are non-content.
Created Date
1995-08-17
Asset type
Program
Genres
Documentary
Media type
Moving Image
Duration
00:32:31.171
Embed Code
Copy and paste this HTML to include AAPB content on your blog or webpage.
Credits
Producer: Worth, Gary
Producing Organization: KRWG
AAPB Contributor Holdings
KRWG Public Media
Identifier: cpb-aacip-380ad502dad (Filename)
Format: D9
Generation: Master
Duration: 00:28:58
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
Citations
Chicago: “Atomic Veterans,” 1995-08-17, KRWG, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed February 24, 2024, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-8e9cc517807.
MLA: “Atomic Veterans.” 1995-08-17. KRWG, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. February 24, 2024. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-8e9cc517807>.
APA: Atomic Veterans. Boston, MA: KRWG, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-8e9cc517807