The following is a personal story submitted to Civilian Exposure and published as part of our new series: “Contamination Chronicles: Personal Stories of Exposure”. If you would like to submit your story, you may fill out our form here or send directly via email to share-@-civilianexposure.org.
As a civilian I lived on a military base camp on Lojwa Island in 1978. I was part of the Radiological Element of the U.S. Joint Task Force of the Atomic Cleanup in the Marshall Islands. At 20 years old, I was the team leader collecting radioactive soil samples with eight other young men and teenagers.
The very islands where I lived and worked continue to be indefinitely quarantined. One of the islands, Runit, is the site of a massive concrete containment dome we built to store 110,000 cubic yards of high level radioactive soil and debris, Runit island is forever quarantined.
Lojwa Island, code named “Ursula” is one of 38 islands located in Enewetak Atoll, a U.S. proving ground for 43 atmospheric nuclear weapon tests. Lowja island is located within a 10 mile radius of 37 of these nuclear weapon tests which blanketed this small island with nuclear fallout, several times this island was also incinerated by the nearby hydrogen weapon tests.
However this astronomical radiation exposure gets even worse! Just a few months ago I discovered that after the nuclear testing our island home, Lojwa Island became the epicenter of biological warfare experiments. I found this information despite the fact it is suspiciously misfiled and convincing me to believe it was not meant to be found.
I found that the Department of Defense (DoD) had conducted biological and chemical weapon experiments in a program known as Project 112. These experiments included the biological warfare agents Coxiella, Burnetii, Francisella tularensis, and Staphylococcal Enterotoxin B, and chemical warfare agents sarin, VX, tabun and soman.
One of these biological weapon tests is Operation “Speckled Start” (Test 68-50), this experiment is still classified despite numerous attempts to obtain this 244 page document. The misfiled Speckled Start fact sheet only provides a summery but states our Lojwa Island base was the epicenter of at least twelve biological warfare experiments.
The biological warfare experiment “Speckled Start” was conducted in September and October of 1968, nine of the experiments used a modified agent of staphylococcal enterotoxin, a powerful agent in the family of toxins; in scientific terms it is a superantigen. The other weaponized bacteria used in these experiments has not been disclosed.
The biological weapon system was a modified F4-E Aircraft, this aircraft sprayed aerosol agents over an array of Army tugs and over most of the atoll’s islands. A 91 foot tower on Lowja Island served as the primary meteorological site recording and collecting data during Speckled Start. One of these deadly weapons was calculated to have covered 2,400 square kilometers (926.5 sq miles).
The native people of Enewetak Atoll were still in exile in 1968, but over 480 kilometers away (300 miles ) on Rongelap Atoll the biological weapon was responsible for at least two deaths and sicken the other islanders. On Namu Atoll, 770 kilometers away (480 miles), at a baseball game it was reported that everyone suddenly were hit with severe cramps and began vomiting. At first these events were wrongly blamed on a nationwide outbreak of flu but later testing proved this was not the flu.
Less than eight years later, Lojwa Island was negligently chosen to be our base camp, transportation hub and home to thousands of young men and teenagers tasked with the impossible 1977-1980 Atomic Cleanup. The toxic and radiological dangers were ignored and the biological weapon experiments conducted on our island home were not ever mentioned. This military camp is where we lived, worked, played, swam, fished, prepared our food and drank the water.
These tropical islands are not just hot and humid they are radioactive, with thousands of tide pools getting fresh bio-mass washed in each day potentially feeding the genetically weaponized bacteria. The possibility this already weaponized bacteria could continue to mutate and breed is frightening. This frightening concern is very real, even though is seems more like a chapter in a science fiction book. This is a reality and these life size radioactive Petri dishes are real.
We too might be human Petri dishes, as we returned home to all parts of our country from this dreadful exposure. One common illness found with the few survivors remaining is an undiagnosed intestinal illness, at first we believed to be caused by the radiation and toxic exposure. Now with this recent finding, we fear it is the weaponized bacteria living in our lower intestines causing this illness and now worry about the potential we could spread this to our families and communities.
Diagnostic capability exists through specialized bio-analytical laboratories yet we are denied this potentially lifesaving healthcare just as we have already been denied the specialized radiochemistry we need. This leaves our healthcare providers not knowing what toxins and bacteria we have been exposed to and leaving them unable to diagnose or properly treat us.
We have pleaded for assistance from many government agencies only to be told the “Burden of Proof” is on each individual which subjects us to a multifarious systematical process of denial. In addition to denying us access to these desperately needed health services, the government is withholding classified documents that contain information about our potential exposures essential for our medical treatment.
Today, very few of the 8,023 atomic cleanup participants are known to still be alive. Many of those remaining are suffering from diseases or illnesses related to radiation, bacteria and/or toxic exposure. Currently I am the only member of my soil sampling crew that is known to still be alive.
Our country placed us on these poisoned lands believing we were serving an official humanitarian mission. Yet, through no fault of our own, the atomic cleanup failed. Now we are left to be treated inhumanely. Our desperate pleas for help go unanswered. This is not just morally wrong nor is it merely negligence. It is “manslaughter” and the evidence of this crime is being cremated or buried and our voices silenced with each death of the few of us still remaining.
Note from the Editor: The account/editorial is verbatim from the author without edit, with only the omission of their name to preserve anonymity.
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