Atomic Veterans Day: Never forget

Today is Atomic Veterans Day.
The occasion was first declared in 1983 by President Ronald Reagan, to mark the anniversary of the earliest detonation of a nuclear weapon on July 16, 1945, and to honor the hundreds of thousands of U.S. service members who witnessed and participated in the some 235 nuclear weapons tests that occurred between 1945 and 1963.
The detonation of MET, a 22-kiloton nuclear weapon detonated at the Nevada Test Site on April 15, 1955, as part of Operation Teapot. Approximately 260 troops were stationed six miles from the blast site. Photo courtesy the Defense Nuclear Test Personnel Review.
A photo from Operation Hardtack I, a series of 35 nuclear tests conducted at the Pacific Test Site in 1958. Photo courtesy of the National Nuclear Security Administration.
A group of Oregonian atomic veterans pose outside the American Legion Hall #158 in Tigard on July 16, 2001. Pictured are, from left: Leo Cox, Robert Westmark, Henry Dittmer, Joe Lines, Glenn Griffith, Gerald Cetto, Doug Brannock, Bob Pfeifer, Bill Bires, Forrest Bahler, Louis Cowan, Dean Booster, Cecil Herald, Clyde Wygant, Roger Allen, Earl Easley, Don Byers, Roger Going and Fred Schafer.
These brave men and women have come to be known as atomic veterans. Like all veterans, they are proud to have answered the call in their nation’s hour of need. But unlike all veterans, they have faced a long and uphill battle in collecting the recognition, benefits and care to which their service entitles them.
Because of the classified nature of the military’s nuclear tests, many atomic veterans were sworn to absolute secrecy about the operations they were engaged in (and the potentially harmful radiation to which they were exposed). For others, the operations were so top secret that no records exist to verify the details of their service.
Like many states, Oregon has permanently designated July 16 as a day to honor and remember the special sacrifices made by our country’s atomic vets. (A proclamation to that effect has been made and signed by Gov. Kate Brown and may be viewed here.)
For decades, our atomic veterans were denied the opportunity to tell their stories, to accept the thanks of a grateful nation and to be remembered. Today, we hope to correct that error. We hope to never forget.