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The greatest sacrifice.

In the spring of 1946, my father, Frank B. Allen, a Washington correspondent at the U.S. Senate for what was then called International News Service, went joyfully to the South Pacific in order to witness and to write about the first postwar atomic bomb tests. Operation Crossroads made headlines in the spring and summer of 1946 and, to my father, covering it was the assignment of a lifetime, if not of the century.

Our household was filled with preparations, as though Bikini were the best assignment for the best reporter ever. Daddy did leave an envelope to be opened in the event that he didn't come home. He had faith, though, in the Navy. He was sure that every possible precaution would be taken to ensure his and everyone else's safety aboard the U.S.S. Mount McKinley, where he was berthed.

My father came home in September of that year. The atomic bomb had been huge, frightening, terrible, and beautiful, he said. He told us about taking a boat to Ground Zero right after the blasts. I don't remember whether he said he had clambered around on the radioactive rocks or not, but it was the kind of thing he would have done.

In 1955, while I was a junior at William and Mary, my father had a stroke. He had a number of minor heart attacks after that. We couldn't understand his constant weight loss. Once a robust, hearty man who loved to take his family fishing, he weighed only a little more than sixty pounds in September 1957 when he died. He had cancer and kidney failure. He was fifty-seven.

William Butler Yeats wrote, "An aged man is but a paltry thing; a tattered coat upon a stick, unless soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing; for every tatter in its mortal dress." In 1956 and 1957, my father's soul no longer sang at all.

My father dreamt of buying a smalltown newspaper and he did some searching for the right one. I hoped to learn the newspaper business from the ground up. It was never to be. He died a little more than thirty-five years ago, and my sister and I have, of course, long been accustomed to the loss. My mother always sounded to new-found friends as though she had just lost her husband recently, until succumbed to Huntington's disease a few years ago.

The United States carried out some 235 nuclear tests between 1945 and 1962, principally in Nevada and in the Pacific Ocean, according to the Veterans Administration.

American soldiers, naval personnel, and Marines were assigned to nearby trenches, islands, and ships, and were thus subjected to low-level ionizing radiation. Many of these men have since developed radiation-induced illnesses and some have died of these illnesses, but the United States refuses to compensate all but a few of the men and their families.

In Nevada, soldiers practiced for battlefield nuclear war, which many considered imminent at the time. The shots," as the blasts were called, had fanciful names - Priscilla, Smoky, Logan, Eddy, Dog, and Diablo. While public-relations efforts generated support for the programs, most of the shots were carried out with the utmost secrecy.

Men were assigned to trenches as near as 1,000 yards from the blasts. The idea was to determine how the troops would hold up in nuclear warfare and to observe the immediate effects of radiation on a nuclear battlefield. Some of the men were given film badges to Wear, but by no means did all of them receive these devices, which at least were meant to measure the levels of radiation to which they were exposed.

War games and simulated battles took place immediately after and in the exact locations of the shots. When the soldiers' film badges recorded unsafe levels of radioactivity, the men were told to take multiple showers and change their clothes.

Then, as now, there was no known remedy for radiation exposure or for radiation poisoning. So the military handled the problem with soap and water.

These soldiers, their widows, and their radiation-affected children should be compensated by the Government for the great sacrifice they made during the Cold War. As of August 1992, the Veterans Administration had rejected 97 per cent of their claims, according to the National Association of Radiation Survivors, an organization dedicated to furthering the cause of radiation-affected veterans and their families.

There are Crossroads veterans alive today, though many of them, like my father, have long since died of radiation-induced illness. A great number of radiation survivors live in poverty, and many of them have incurred large medical bills. The Radiation Exposure Compensation Act of 1990, as currently funded, will compensate about 400 radiation exposure victims. Approximately 5,000 claims are expected under the law, which is aimed at both military and civilian victims, including those who lived downwind of the Nevada Proving Ground.

About 250,000 Americans were affected by the testing programs and by the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Many of them have died, and many with radiation-induced illnesses have never made the connection between their illness and their service in the military testing programs.

Two public laws enacted in 1985 and 1988 list compensable diseases for radiation-affected veterans, including certain cancers and leukemias. These laws have been repeatedly amended to include more diseases, but to little effect, since the Veterans Administration continues to deny all but 3 per cent of claims.

My father the newsman was more than willing to go to Bikini. Many Cold War veterans may not have been so willing, at least not once they had participated in their first shots. The thought came to my mind over and over again as I learned about their plight, "But these were our guys.

Diana Allen Strelow is a writer in Portsmouth, Virginia.
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Title Annotation:Journal Entry - radiation survivor compensation
Author:Strelow, Diana Allen
Publication:The Progressive
Article Type:Column
Date:Mar 1, 1993
Previous Article:Sidney Wolfe.
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