A Widow's Story of a 1964 Nuclear Test Casualty

I met Lloyd, a very gregarious, energetic, hardworking and responsible person with a very positive outlook on life, three weeks after separation from service. We dated for nearly one year when he asked me to marry him. His words, nearly verbatim, were "I want to ask you to marry me, but before you answer there is something I have to tell you. When I was in the service I was involved in the first hydrogen bomb test. We flew into [or through] the mushroom cloud. When we returned to base our plane was checked with a Geiger counter and it was radioactive. I have leukemia and was told by doctors that I might be sterile or if I did have children they might be malformed. There were 4 [or five] other men on the plane who have also developed leukemia. You must never repeat what I've just told you since I was sworn to secrecy and told I could be court martialed if I ever talked about it".

After he told me, I did mention this to my mother who became very upset and tried in vain to discourage me from marrying him. She did like and respect him but was concerned for me and our future children. When Lloyd learned that I had repeated what he'd told me, he refused to tell me anything more about the tests or his involvement.

We married eight months later and shortly after drove to the Chicago area to see a buddy who was one of the other men who had also developed leukemia. This buddy was visibly shaken by Lloyd's presence and after just a short conversation with him, Lloyd returned to the car and said to me "he hasn't told his wife and is afraid that I might let something slip". So we returned home and I don't know his buddy's name.

As the years went by we had three healthy children and one miscarriage. The only other information I gleaned was from overheard conversations with VFW friends. I heard him say that the tests were over water where the bombs would be detonated above, at or below water level and that islands had been stocked with animals. When the islands were checked after explosion, an island had been blown away, leaving a crater that took days to fill with water. He also mentioned that it was a truly beautiful site and that the cloud was tumbling with every color of the rainbow. I suspect this is true only with over-water explosions.

He was mustered-out with service connected leukemia after spending four additional months in service in a military hospital near Geneva, New York where doctors did not expect him to live. He was treated with, the then banned, Nitrogen Mustard (today's Cytoxen), which provided a remission. He then received all further medical treatment at the Milwaukee (Woods) VA Hospital from 1955 to 1964 when he died.

In 1961 or 1962 he came home from an VA appointment, very upset. He said, "Dr. Dessel just told me that all the other men on the plane have died and that I'm the only one surviving". It didn't occur to me til years later, how would Dr. Dessel know this unless these men were being tracked. Surely all those men were not from this area of the country nor were they all being treated by Dr. Dessel. This leads me to firmly believe that there are additional medical records that I will never gain access to.

Over the years Lloyd would show me the folders he brought home from the service and say "no matter what happens to me, don't ever destroy or get rid of these files".

When he died in June, 1964 I had newspaper reporters, Milwaukee Journal, Milwaukee Sentinel and the local community paper, calling by phone and in person, wanting to do a story about him. (I believe his VFW friends contacted the newspapers.) I refused permission and told them he had been sworn to secrecy and that I had no tangible proof. Also told them that Lloyd never had any anger, regrets or negative feelings about his service years or what had happened to him.

The reporters did give me another snippet of information. They told me that the tests he was involved in took place in the South Pacific Marshall Islands.

I did, however feel the anger he never felt. He died at the age of 32 leaving a 6 month old daughter and two sons aged 5 and 7 years.

About a week after Lloyd's death a Casualty Assistance Officer, Lt. Dunn, from Truax Field called on me to inform me of survivor benefits. When I told him I was looking for information regarding Lloyd's involvement in the nuclear tests, his only response was that if I were to start a lawsuit against the government to obtain info we, his family, could lose all benefits.

It wasn't until approximately 1980 that I saw, on TV, a DOD representative saying they were trying to locate veterans who had participated in the nuclear tests. When I contacted the Pentagon and gave them what little information I had and asked for more, I was told that they could not do so because of privacy rights.

Thus began my quest and a disturbing education.

I had never looked at Lloyd's military files previously and found some orders, security clearances and some military medical records. After finding it all confusing, I began a chronological chart which left 3 or 4 month gaps which were preceded by "secret" or "top secret" clearances. My chart remained this way until 1984 when I found a listing of tests and dates. Four test series did gracefully slip into the gaps, two at NTS and two at PPG. I then learned that shot "Mike" of the "IVY" series was the first hydrogen test in the South Pacific and that an island named Elugelab was "blown away", leaving a large crater. The DNA's report does include the 509 Air Refueling Squad as being participants in the 'IVY' test series. Their first report does not include the 509 but a later revised report credits the 509, saying they had been erroneously included in another AF unit which had fewer participants. Now I'm searching for hard copy proof that Lloyd did indeed participate and in spite of the absence of such proof, I know he did not lie.

These men deserve acknowledgment for the lives lost and the medical care they are now in need of. They don't deserve to be labeled as radical, lying leeches, looking for a free ride as they are now being made to feel. The widows and children deserve an honest accounting of what their husbands and fathers died for. This is a part of American history that must not be buried out of sight and out of mind.

My statement that the DNA reports on nuclear tests are inaccurate and incomplete deserves clarification, but as noted earlier the 509 Bomb Wing was not originally included in the " IVY" test and I don't doubt that some others have also been overlooked or recorded with other groups. Record keeping was sloppy, at best.

The glaring and serious inaccuracies involves the reconstructed levels of radiation exposure and protective measures supposedly taken. Methods of measuring levels of radiation exposure during the early tests were very limited and haphazardly done and did not measure anything more than gamma radiation. Measuring only Gamma radiation, which dissipated or lessened in a matter of hours, gave the impression of a safe environment shortly after explosion. Not taken into consideration, when judging radiation exposure levels, is the fact that atomic and nuclear bomb explosions caused residual radiation from fission products including cesium-137, strontium-90 and nonfissioned uranium and plutonium as well as soil encaptured neutrons. Fallout did include gamma radiation, but a portion of fallout also includes emissions of alpha and beta rays. The alpha and beta emitters entrapped in dirt particles, dust and water created a "stew", which rained on participants, and in which they worked and lived.

The gamma rays were easily (if crudely) measured and dissipated rapidly by comparison to other forms of radiation. It is the gamma radiation measurements from corrupted records, on which the DNA has based the exposure levels. Even the VA, testifying at congressional hearings, has expressed the opinion that the reconstructed levels of exposure are "not credible". Veterans who had the responsibility of measuring and recording radiation levels during the tests say that these results were often falsified or, if "off the scale", were never recorded. There is presently (1999) a U.S. General Accounting Office investigation of these charges.

UPDATE 2000;

During the last six months of 1999, contact with a fellow 509 Bomb Wing "IVY" participant answered many questions and confirmed my conclusions regarding Lloyd's participation in the "IVY" Series--Shot "Mike". Additional information about the 42nd Air Base Wing - 75th Bomb Squad, strengthens my suspicion that he was also involved in "Castle" Series--Shot "Bravo".

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